Courageous Heart of a Yogi, by Alex Keller

Alex Keller fish pose BIC Sup
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Taking time to reflect on our sup yoga poses and WHY we explore the varying asanas is an important part of our practice.  Take a journey here with BIC Sup yogini, Alex Keller into the heart of back bends and how they benefit us body, mind & soul.  Aloha!

Alex Keller sup yoga backbend bic sup
Back bending celebrates the joy of the heart but also builds strength inside so that we may be resilient in difficult times in order to remain steady & open.

Back bends are a journey that takes one deep into the center of themselves. They are about finding ones inner strength and courage.

The spine is an incredible physical structure. The vertebra house the spinal central nervous system which provides strength and movement to the periphery of the body. The back is a combination of strength and flexibility; strong muscles provide safety through structure conversely flexibility allows the spine to move through a full range of motion.

When practiced safely and correctly, back bends can increase strength, stamina, energy and balance.

Alex Keller Bow Pose BIC Sup
In all back bending sup yoga poses, it’s important to remember to lift your heart and use your core to stay strong and stable.

Back bends stimulate the nervous system and increase the flow of energy throughout the body. They open and stretch the chest and abdominals, stimulating the Heart Chakra (Anahata) which helps one tap into their emotions, experiences and relationships. Sometimes back bends bring up strong emotions such as fear. To work though emotional or challenging circumstances, the mind must learn how to be flexible and strong.

Back bends are a journey that takes one deep into the center of themselves. They are about finding ones inner strength and courage.” – Alex Keller

Consistent exercise helps train the nervous system by generating a synthetic stress. Over time, this training improves our bodies’ resilience to moments of intense stress. Back bends are particularly introspective, providing an opportunity to train the nervous system to return to a state of equanimity after stress and stimulation. Through time and dedication, back bends allow one to cultivate a strong, flexible and courageous heart.

Alex Keller full wheel BIC Sup
Alex celebrates a full extension of her back bend by keeping her shoulder blades on her back, palms pushing into the board and using the breath to move consciously to this moment.

When practicing, it is important to remember to breath. Many practitioners feel short of breath, tightening of the airway, or an inability to breathe which induces panic that brings them out of the back bend. Never force the spine into poses, instead be aware of the journey that back bends can provide. With each practice, one moves towards inner courageousness and strength. Be strong and accept where ever the body is in that moment, surrender the ego and open your heart to self-love and inner strength.

“Through time and dedication, back bends allow one to cultivate a strong, flexible and courageous heart.”

Upward Facing Dog pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Upward Facing Dog is the foundation of all back bends. Start on your abdomen, forehead on the board and the back of your neck lengthened. Place your hands under the shoulders, with the elbows pointing to the sky. Relax shoulders away from the ears and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Spread the fingers wide, using the entire hand for support.

“Be strong and accept where ever the body is in that moment, surrender the ego and open your heart to self-love and inner strength.”

Inhale as you press the tops of the feet press into the board and lift the torso to a comfortable height using the strength of the back muscles and arms. The thighs will lift off of the board, placing the body weight on the tops of the feet and hands. Note: lengthen as you lift, so that the shoulders stay stacked over the wrists and the torso moves forward.

Alex Keller Upward Dog BIC Sup
Upward Facing Dog draws energy from the legs into the chest for this sweet heart opener that always makes me smile!

Bow pose (Danurasana) (half bow shown):

Begin lying on your abdomen with the arms stretched overhead, the forehead resting on the board. Slide the elbows under the shoulders coming into a small back bend. Bend the right knee and reach back with the right hand to clasp the ankle. Press the top of the right thigh into the board as you open the chest. Exhale release and repeat on the other side. To move to full bow clasp both ankles as the same time.

Alex Keller bow pose BIC Sup
Half bow pose (pictured here) is a gentle way to ease into the full post. Use the strength of your arms to steady and lengthen the tailbone to create length and fluidity in the spine.

Fish Pose (Mastyasana):

Begin lying on your back relax the shoulders down and back by tucking the shoulder blades under your body. Bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the board.  Then place both hands under the buttocks, palms facing down. Press into the forearms, lift the chest and bring the head onto the board. Create a long arc of energy from tailbone through the entire spine to the crown of the head.

Variation 1: lift both hands and feet at a 45 degree angle towards the sky.

Variation 2: Bring the arms and legs into bound eagle (Gurudasana Pose) by crossing the right leg over the left, drawing the right food behind the left calf. Cross the left upper arm over the right bringing the palms together overhead. Repeat crossing opposite arms and legs.

Alex Keller fish pose BIC Sup
Everybody’s favorite sexy pose 😉 Heart open, resting on crown of the head creates a change in perspective and a beautiful wrap of the spine in an upward direction. Remember to use opposite side arms and legs for full effect!

Wheel pose (Urdhva Danurasana or Chakrasana):

Prepare for your back bend by laying on your back while bending your knees and elbows towards the sun.  Keeping your feet parallel, place your hands under your shoulders. Aligning your elbows, wrists and shoulders, inhale and lift off of the board to full back bend.  Stay steady through the back body here by integrating shoulders on to your upper back and keeping the core strong.  Take 5 deep breaths.  Slowly bend the arms outward to come down, remembering to tuck the chin and roll onto your back.  Pause.  Take it in.

Counter poses such as gentle twists are a great way to cool the energy from back bending and allow the spine to return organically to its neutral position.  Stay there.  Breath & enjoy.

Alex Keller sup yoga backbend bic sup
Take a deep breath and lift. There is nothing more rejuvenating than a back bending practice to recenter your focus on important heart qualities to build strength and resilience into your overall practice.

Written by Alex Keller, BIC Sup yogini

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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.