Different variations of a posture are offered in Yoga class not because one is better than the other or one is the one we should all be working towards. Variations or modifications are suggested because every single body is unique and different and what works for one person may not work for another. One person may find a posture easy to get into having never practiced much Yoga before whilst another person may have been practicing Yoga for 10 years but because of their bone structure, for example, could find the exact same posture impossible! There are some postures some bodies will simply never bend into and there are others that may be reached with time and practice. Yoga is all about finding what works best for the individual, not about forcing anything in order to get to a more “advanced” posture.
Here is an example photograph of different versions for a backbend. The above photo is me demonstrating Wheel Pose with straight legs and the below photograph is my dad demonstrating Bridge Pose. Wheel is not accessible for him and Bridge is the backbend that is right for his body at the moment.
Many of us hold tension in the shoulders, chest and hip flexors which backbends can be great for stretching. Backbends counteract the bad posture created by all that hunching over that we can be prone to with desk jobs or our mobile phones and by bringing awareness to the spine and feeling into a sense of expansion across the chest, we can start to improve posture off the mat too. The body’s natural fear response is to curl into a protective ball so back bends, with the act of opening up the heart space, can offer release physically, emotionally and energetically from any tightness or blockages that could have been caused in the past due to trauma or fear. Yoga offers so many different variations of postures which reap the same benefits, so it’s all about finding what’s right for each individual person practicing. Bend don’t break!