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Bending Over Backwards

The precision in SuMei Shum’s instructions leaves me in little doubt that she spent many years in the corporate legal world. Combined with the spectacular anatomical knowledge of her counterpart, Lynn Yeo, their Bending Over Backwards session was an exercise in accuracy and alignment.

Teamwork

If you’re wanting to have a lazy session on your mat, I would not recommend coming along to one of Sumei and Lynn’s workshops. If, however, you’re looking for breakthroughs in your practice and to solve some of those pesky alignment issues, you would be hard pressed to find a better pair to guide you.

“Claw your top of your toes into the floor,” Lynn instructs me as we move into our first bhujangasana (cobra). For the first time in a long while, I didn’t feel pressure in my knees and ankles when strengthening my legs in the pose. I add an extra foot of width to my triangle and suddenly, my inner thighs ignite, my spine grows and the lateral flexion feels effortless.

By picking apart poses you’ve experienced hundreds of times, you’re suddenly finding space and length where you thought you had none, or strength where you had stagnated in a pose.

I particularly liked Sumei’s instructions for gomukasana (cow face) arms. This pose is possible for me, but always uncomfortable. Sumei encouraged us to shift the biceps by extending the arms sideways and back and then retracting the armbones to create more space in the shoulder socket. Voila! I was holding more comfortably than I ever have. 

Another alignment I enjoyed was their use of “robot arms.” Before moving into setu bandasana (bridge pose) press your elbows into the mat beside the body with the palms facing each other and pointing to the ceiling to create more lift in the upper back. Combined with the natural curve in the lower back, I found even more space in my spine.

It was great to have two teachers working in this way: Sumei did most of the class instruction, while Lynn hustled between students, adjusting, shifting, refining. I had a strong, seamless practice with loads of one-on-one attention. Both of them have more than a thousand hours of Anusara yoga training and it certainly shows.

I have some serious spinal issues and have developed a backbending practice around them. It was invaluable to me to have Lynn pick apart my technique and poses to take still more pressure off my lumbar spine. Moving in and out of urdhva dhanurasana (full backbend) she stayed with me and refined, encouraged and best of all, completely understood the anatomical issues I’m up against. After several refinements, I understood how to shift the angle of my hands, shoulders and legs to activate different muscles to the ones I’d been using.

After the practice, I was left with a warm glow in my lower back rather than my usual twang , and when I came into a couple of backbending poses later in the day, they felt fluid and effortless using Lynn’s cues. I’m incredibly grateful.

Our final pose, ustrasana (camel) to urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) might not seem like a simple or elegant transition, but with tucked toes and a few timely cues, I somehow managed to do it.

As we gratefully sank into savasana, Sumei shared a quote from one of their teachers, Christina Sell: “Instead of making yoga your life, make your life your yoga.”

If I can make my life as effortless and elegant as Sumei and Lynn made my backbends, I think I’m already halfway there.

Written by : Megan Flamer

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