“Stop Squeezing those pumpkins!”
If you ever make it to a class with my teacher and mentor Annie Carpenter she will probably remind you to stop squeezing your butt at least once during backbends. As you probably already guessed, she likes to refer to the buttocks as “pumpkins”. As lovely as a lil’ perky pumpkin shaped butt sounds it is really not all that great for you when you are attempting your backbending poses.
In the above photo you can clearly see the feet turned out indicating there is external rotation in the thighs. If you look closer you can see there is some “pumpkin” misuse and even classic puffing of the groins. As lovely as this photo and practitioner are in this photo this is unfortunately a perfect example of what not to do.
We will get to why in a moment but the feeling you want is more like a baby after a couple of laps in the kiddie pool, oh yes, the “wet diaper” feeling, now we’re talking! Drop your hips two inches at least and then extend your tailbone towards the back of the knees while rolling your inner thighs down and pressing your shins towards your shoulders. No “pyramiding” the groins towards the sky, your crotch should not be the highest point on your body. Let’s face it, leading with the groins is probably never a great idea. (Write that one down, it’s brilliant advice!)
So what does your butt have to do with your back? Glad you asked! When you squeeze your glutes it creates a strong external rotation of your thighs which in turn forces your sacrum (the flat bone that attaches your butt to your back) into compression. Kinda like the 405 freeway at 5pm, major traffic jam, no fun and your backbend is stuck! The way to get things moving again so to speak, is to internally rotate the thighs. This can be done by squeezing a foam block between your upper inner thighs. This will engage your hamstrings and quads (enjoy the burning sensations, that’s your thighs getting stronger, yay!) and save your lower back and sacrum heaps of problems while taking your backbends to the next level! Can you say superstar backbends? Oh, yeah!
The problem with overbending in the lumbar spine (lower back L4-L5 to be more to the point) is that it is much like a credit card that has been bent back and forth about a thousand times, eventually it breaks at the seam. Not too cool if that “seam” happens to be your lower back. As we age we have very little to no cartilage left in that area and with overuse it becomes bone on bone, Ouch! (At that point you may as well lay out a welcome mat for your new friend Mr. Arthritis)
Okay, enough with the bad news, the good news is when you stabilize and neutralize the lower back safely then the body will begin to blossom the backbend into the upper spine! Trust me when I say understanding this is like winning the backbending lottery, the payoff is huge!
Below is yoga teacher and friend Diana Cohanzad in a very full, healthy and beautiful backbend.