I looked up this phrase, ‘to bend over backward’ on several websites today. The general meaning is consistent – expending effort to make sure something happens or more particularly to expend effort to help someone else accomplish something. In every case, there was a sense of effort, sometimes, great effort.
And I get that – I’m not great at backbends. Never have been. I’ve never been particularly flexible. Plus true backbends take a fair amount of strength in your arms to support you and in your core if you actually bend over backward from a standing posture. Generally, all the messages to me pre-yoga classes kept me from looking forward to backbends. However, there’s good news, there are, in fact, many types and levels of backbends so we can all gain the benefits of backbends. And there truly are benefits.
Backbends, of all kinds, help us breathe more deeply which gets more oxygen flowing which leads to more energy. They are a way to counteract the hunched over postures the come from peering at a computer screen or worse looking down at a small phone or tablet. Backbends bring “vitality and lightness to your body and mind”* something, I suspect we can all use a bit more of these days.
Try it for yourself. In today’s meditation, I’ll walk through a backbend you can do seated in your chair. It’s a simple way to create both physical and mental energy for yourself which then helps with our emotional energy.
I eventually learned to do a backbend – over an exercise ball. This method allows you to bend over and be fully supported and it feels wonderful. You need enough core strength to keep yourself from being rolled off the ball which can take a bit of practice. But beyond that, it’s a wonderful way to gain the benefits of a full stretch of the front of your body, something that really doesn’t happen any other way.
I was in a gym doing a backbend over the exercise ball and when I came up, an older coach who worked mostly with men on boxing, said, “Well, it looks like you have the flexibility thing workin’. Gymnastics in your teens?” I laughed and said, “Nope. Yoga in my forties.” He grinned and said, “That’ll do.” And he’s right, that’ll do. Finding a way to try postures that you’ve always thought were beyond you, is another important part of the practice of yoga.
Let’s take all of this to the practice of leadership. Where are you bending over backward to help people? Is it a positive part of your leadership – compassion, care, and support? Or is it actually a habit of spending great effort to help others when they should be doing the work themselves?
Or for yourself – where are you telling yourself that you (or your organization) can’t do something? Take a moment to really think about it? Is it your fear of the unknown or are you afraid you don’t have the strength or your organization won’t have the flexibility to accomplish this challenge? Is this fear or lack of flexibility stopping you from doing good work? From letting the creative energy of your organization flow? How can you find support for yourself as you stretch yourself? How can you help others feel supported as they try something awkward and difficult?
Like me on the exercise ball, you might find a backbend – this new thing- is better than you ever imagined. Trying and accomplishing something new brings energy to you, your colleagues, and to your organizations.
Sparrowe. L & Walden, P. (2002). The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health, Boston: Shambala.