Yoga teachings differ not just between disciplines of yoga but from teacher to teacher within the same discipline.
In some disciplines of yoga, it is customary to practice back bends without countering them with forward bends, until the back bending sequence has been completed. If a student tries to practice a forward bend during a deep back bending sequence they may be reprimanded. The teacher may compare this to the action of bending a paper clip back and forth, which can snap in half if it’s bent back and forth too many times.
In other disciplines teachers are adamant that you must practice ‘counter’ poses (forward bends) during your back bending sequence. Here a teacher may compare the spine to the snake portrayed in Sanskrit texts. We should be able to fold back and forth and twist like a cat.
So who is right? The answer is…it depends.
Yes, I agree our spine is made for movement, just look at how a baby moves – no movement is inaccessible. The back and forth action is play for a baby. However, as we age some of that ‘freedom’ in our spine may have been lost and has to be coaxed back. Many of us have imbalances in our spines, some congenital, others created by habits or lifestyle. Some of these imbalances are minor and others are more serious. Some examples include, scoliosis, kyphosis, hyper lordosis, vertebral compression (which may include herniated or bulging discs). For these individuals, the spine can act more like the proverbial paper clip than the serpent.
So for all but the most ‘serpent like’ students, when I teach backbends I save the forward bends until after the back bending sequence has been completed.