Ah, backbends. An essential practice in yoga and one of the most divisive.
With a few exceptions, students either pepper their practice with as many as possible or skip them in anticipation of the inevitable discomfort.
The benefits of backbends in yoga
Backbending opens our heart chakra and the postures work to build our courage and stamina, and give us a burst of energy.
They’re also said to:
- Lower stress and anxiety
- Improve posture + spine flexibility and mobility
- Stretch out abdominal muscles
- Increase oxygen levels + open the body to diaphragmatic breathing
- Help alleviate back + neck pain
How to backbend safely
While there are tons of benefits to backbending asanas, when they’re not practised carefully, they can lead to pain or injury, or a tendency to miss them in class – which is especially remiss to your yoga practice if you’re seated in front of a computer all day.
It may sound obvious but we can’t expect to move into the full expression of wheel or Urdhva Dhanurasana – or even upward facing dog – without first stretching out the abdomen, hips and chest.
Begin a backbending sequence with gentle openings such as moving from Child’s Pose or Balasana to tabletop position and then Cat // Cow before a few rounds of Sun Salutations with slow graduating cobras.
Lengthen and engage
Most backbends get stuck in the lower back, the lumbar spine. This part of our spine has a natural backbend curve. When we backbend in this region, it compresses the vertebrae and essentially weakens our spine – and can also result in that uncomfortable pinching sensation.
When moving into backbends, always lengthen through the spine and gently draw your tailbone towards your legs. Engage your inner thighs and transverse abdominals to avoid an extended anterior pelvic tilt.
Know how to counterpose
Unlike many other asanas which love an immediate counterpose, with backbends, counteracting with a forward bend can place too much stress on the spine.