How I Found My Backbend: Behind the Scenes of a Private Lesson, Part III

November 2, 2011 / Aaron

Remember those picture puzzles you saw as a kid? Where you look at two copies of the same picture, but you have to find the six differences? Okay, let's do that again, with these bad boys:



Don't cheat! Take a minute to really look, and see if you can find anything. Don't cheat...










Okay, what did you see? Because before my private lesson with Edna, I just saw my feet: flat on the ground in the first picture, and then up on my tippy toes for the second one. I would work on backbends and home, or look sideways in the mirror at the studio, and it all looked the same to me.

Kids, this is why you need a private lesson. Don't get me wrong, instructors have adjusted my backbends before, and they'd say things like, "make a C with your spine," "don't put too much pressure on your low back," etc, and I made a very concerted effort to listen and tune in to my body. And when they'd come over and pull up on my ribs, I'd definitely feel the difference, but not long enough for my muscles to remember the sensation. I'd flounder around afterwards, trying to recapture that elusive feeling, more or less to no avail. Then in Jeff's class I realized I was doing things COMPLETELY wrong and I realized I needed some extra guidance. The spine is a very precious, delicate thing, I didn't want to mess around with it.

So, I had another private lesson with the fabulous Edna Barr. In my opinion, the three best things about private lessons with her are:

1) Concentrated effort on your particular practice: your challenges, your whims, your body.

2) Professional explanation and unparalleled attention. If she explains something and I don't get it, she'll explain it again a different way, until it "clicks."

3) The full body massage.

We spent an hour working together, of course starting with headstand and handstand, warming up with some vinyasas (which still give me grief, oy vey), and when I was warm enough to sweat we moved into backbends.

For the record, PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, you really need someone who knows what they're doing to spot you, backbends feel amazing and wonderful but it's also not hard to overdo it and injure yourself. Not worth it! Approach your favorite instructor, one who really "gets" you, and don't go hurting yourself.

We started with bridge, then moved into full wheel, and I learned to rock back and forth to get more into my upper back. After every pose, Edna would work over my back with a delicious massage, it felt amazing. Finally, I got up into headstand (yes, headstand), and she helped guide me back into what might just have been the deepest backbend of my life. Y'all, my ELBOWS were on the ground, I could hardly breathe, and then when she told me to lift up my head, I was like, "What?" I don't know about you, but when I'm in a pose like that, I hardly know my own name, I'm concentrating so hard just on breathing through the pose and not passing out that any verbal instruction is just totally wasted on me.

Edna knows this, and took pictures to help me. At first, she took a picture of my bad habits: the way I dumped into my lumbar spine, and kept my shoulders over my hands. After some coaching, she got me into a backbend that felt very different: there was significantly more action in my upper back, my shoulders crept towards my elbows, and the bend was so deep there was no way I could keep my feet flat on the floor (give me a few years!). The photos really helped me visualize the difference in my backbends, and it was so helpful to be able to scroll back and forth, rather than crane my neck to the side and try to see in a mirror, huffing and puffing and too "in the zone" to understand anything.

So! That's the latest update in the Adventures of Tristen. I can't believe we went from HEADSTAND to a backbend, I just can't wrap my brain around that. But yes, it happened, and I think it happened a lot sooner than it would have because of the private, personalized guidance of a capable, thoughtful, and loving instructor.

Thank you so much to Edna, and all the amazing instructors at Yoga Belly! You ALL are fabulous!