Shortly after I decided to work on getting my splits back, it occurred to me “why stop there?” I used to be a noodle, Gumby, if you will. Just because I was well into my 30s shouldn’t deter me from trying to get all that back. Right? Thus began my quest for a bendy back.
Like my splits, I hadn’t been able to do a backbend, or let’s be honest, a bridge, since I was in my early teens. I used to love doing back and front walkovers all over the place. Who doesn’t love that?
It turns out that my healthy/serious obsession with Cleo’s Rockin Legs and Abs was already helping my back bending journey. But now I needed specific guidance as to know how to safely train my back flexibility. It is super easy to hurt yourself in flexibility training, if you don’t know what you are doing. And hurting your back is not something you want to do.
It was fortuitous that I happened upon Kristina Nekyia’s fabulous Fit and Bendy facebook page (www.facebook.com/FitAndBendyContortionTraining), where she frequently doles out nuggets of flexibility wisdom and YouTube videos. It was also like a sign (ok, coincidence) that she was coming out with her first flexibility DVD, Get Bent. I immediately pre-ordered it, waiting, very impatiently, for it to be released and arrive.
The first few times I did Get Bent, I didn’t quite make it through. Who knew flexibility training could be such a killer workout – active, PNF, passive – I was sweating buckets. It took a little while to start seeing results, my shoulders and back are like a rigid board (thank you desk job), but eventually things got flexier.
This past summer, Kristina came out with her new back bendy DVD, Bendy Body, which is focused on active flexibility (aka burnnnnn). I still cry when I get to the shoulder portion of it, but I have seen most of my back bendy progress with it.
Considering I started from zero, I have seen the biggest gains with my upper back flexibility. Once I began building the Pectoral muscles and learning how to engage them along with my Lats, things really started to open up. Now that I am stronger, two of my absolute favorite stretches are Moose pose (either on the wall or on the floor) and full bridge rocks (shifting back and forward several times, then walking my hands and feet closer in).
The key to back bending (ok, there are many, but this is just one) is you really have to work your whole body. Your lower body, core, back, and shoulders – everything is connected and need to be both strong and flexible. I focus on my back a few times a week, but I work my other areas of flexibility and strength every day.
Other things I have learned along the way:
- Breathe dammit! I know it hurts, but holding your breath only leads to your body freaking out and oxygen deprivation to your muscles. No bueno.
- Learn your anatomy. Whether you are trying to figure out what to engage, what is doing most of the work in a stretch, why you aren’t progressing, or how you might have gotten injured, understanding your body and how it works is critical.
- Flexibility takes time, especially with your back. Given that it is super easy to hurt your back, don’t overdo it. Set realistic goals and try not to compare yourself to others. Some people are naturally bendy and they will likely be able to sit their butts on their heads, but I know that is definitely not in the cards for me. I am okay with that. Mostly. Right now, I am more focused on getting my hands and feet to touch in bridge, which is something I have been working on for nearly two years… sooooo close!
- Track your progress. Oh social media, I love thee. I take a lot of progress pics and post them to Instagram. Sometimes, I can just feel the progress, rather than see it. And others, taking a photo can really show how far I have come – even if not very. (“Progress is made in millimeters” – Kristina Nekyia)
- & Ask the experts! My current flexibility hurdle is my lower back and hip flexors. Yes, I can split, but I am not feeling them stretching in bridge. So, what to do? Ask Kristina! I posted my latest bridge pic to Instagram and tagged her in it. Kristina is super wonderful about responding to questions. She is able to look at my form and tell me what I need to do. So now I have some new things to pay attention to in my practice.
Being able to work on my flexibility on my own has been really great. Getting to work with someone in person is also invaluable. Every workshop I take, I learn something new to add to my practice. Recently, my home studio began offering yoga classes with the always amazing, Kellee Charles. So now I get to work with her on my flexibility and strength, and my form is improving.
I am always amazed when I look back on my starting pics and compare them to where I am today, two years later. I had hoped I would get flexy (even to be able to push up into bridge), but I don’t think I knew what my body was capable of. Next on the docket is being able to drop back and stand up from bridge. Can’t wait to see what I can do!