standing up from a backbend
I've made progress. During Kino's workshop last fall, I couldn't even drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana from standing. The fear was too great. I practiced by walking my hands backwards down the wall to the floor over and over again. In time, I was able to walk the wall back up, too.
These efforts helped and I reached a point where I could drop back, unassisted. In all honesty though, there was a point where my backbend became a free-fall to the floor. I didn't have the strength to maintain control all the way down and I would just sort of crash the last third of the way, landing hard on my wrists, causing pain.
My next strategy involved the staircase in our home. I found that if I stood on the landing and went over backwards to the second step from the bottom, I could control things. The steps allowed the bottom third of my drop back (the free-fall portion) to be handily removed from the equation. (I placed two colored rags on either side of the step I was aiming for. Without the rags to serve as guides, I found that it was really difficult to tell which step I wanted to reach upside-down and backwards.)
I practiced using the second step for a while until I felt I had good control on the way up and the way down. Then I graduated myself to the first step from the bottom and I continue to practice there. Every day. (Another great thing about the staircase is that if I do have a moment of panic then I can reach out and grab the railing to help me up.)
As I have been using the stairs, I've also continued to practice dropping back to the floor. Over time, I've been able to reach a point where everything happens in a manner that is slow and controlled. No more crashing and no more shooting wrist pain. I actively think about keeping the weight in my legs - trying to maintain as much straightness there as I can. I like to imagine my legs are the trunks of a very, very large and sturdy tree.
I'm blessed with good flexibility but having the strength to support my flexibility is something I struggle with. I realized this and decided to also add some strengthening work to my routine. For this, I turned to the backbends found at the beginning of Second Series. I've been working on Salabhasana A & B, Bhekasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, and Laghu Vajrasana. Of these, Laghu Vajrasana has been by far the most important for me.
With Laghu (or Little Thunderbolt posture), I currently approach the pose with my hands coming to rest on my ankles. I don't have the strength at the present moment to go all the way down and back up again. Like my early attempts at dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana, the last bit of Laghu was a freefall until my head crashed into the mat. I've been practicing every day though for a while. In Kino's workshop, I could barely lean at all and come back up. Now I'm able to get a few inches from the mat and then I land with a little bump. I still can't come back up though once I've landed. I have a feeling the day I achieve the control to go all the way down and back up again in Laghu will probably be closely tied to the day I'm able to do the same in Urdhva Dhanurasana.
All of this seems to be helping. In my Ashtanga class, my instructor and I have progressed to the point that she just lays her hand gently on my chest. She guides me down and then back up again with only her hand on top of my chest. I suspect there's a lot of friction there because I'm so sweaty by that point in the practice, but still... There can't be that much help if there's no boost from behind my back or hips. Probably some of it is psychological as well.
So that's where it stands. I'm close. Frustratingly close. But writing this post has actually helped me remember how far I have come. Heck, when I first started yoga last January, I didn't think it would be possible to ever drop back at all. I thought it was something that had been lost to youth. That's the beautiful thing about yoga though. It teaches you humility and patience and perseverance. It shows you that so many things are possible if we just chip away at them one tiny bit at a time.