A good balance of “effort and surrender” is necessary in the poses – and also in life. By Esther Au Yong
International yoga teacher Desiree Rumbaugh. (Photo: Desiree Rumbaugh)
Many yoga practitioners say their practice is healing, and for international yoga teacher Desiree Rumbaugh, it was “life saving”.
In 2003, she fell into depression when she received news that her 20-year-old son had been shot to death, along with his 19-year-old girlfriend, while sleeping in their pick-up truck. The couple were out camping overnight to celebrate their first-year anniversary. It took her three years to “accept the event and return to wholeness”. Besides seeing a therapist, Desiree, 56, said that yoga – she has been practising since 1981 – helped her heal.
How did her asana (poses) practice help? “There are five energy bodies to be addressed through yoga. The first one is the physical body, the second is the energy body or the breath, the third is the thinking mind and the fourth is the witness consciousness mind. The fifth and most central is pure spirit, which is joy.
”Yogis believe that the most effective way to have less suffering in one’s life is to become more joyful and at peace with the impermanence of life (the human condition). The aim is to learn to connect body, mind and spirit. Body is the first and most easily accessible gateway to knowing one’s higher wisdom, hence the work with asana in classes,” Desiree, who taught at Space + Light Yoga in Singapore recently, explains.
Here, she gives some tips for better backbends, a class of asanas that are known to help open the heart:
Desiree Rumbaugh in ustrasana (camel). (Photo: Desiree Rumbaugh)
Why are backbends said to be heart-opening?
I think backbends actually push into our physical heart (chest area) which for most people, takes a bit of work. Flexible people can usually bend easily at the lower back, but backbends hurt if continued in that manner. In order for backbends to feel good, we have to learn how to get up into our heart, physically and emotionally.
What are the three best backbends to practise?
I like bhujangasana (cobra), dhanurasana (bow) and ustrasana (camel). They are progressive in order of difficulty because you are working on the same action while increasing the effects of gravity in each pose.
What are your best three tips on how to get the best out of one’s backbend practice?
– Learn how to align yourself properly in each backbend variation by studying with a certified teacher who knows anatomy.
– Engage all of your muscles.
– Don’t hold your breath. Soften in just the right places with steady exhalations. These last two points are often referred to as “effort and surrender” which are two necessary and balancing actions in the poses – and in life.