Backbending is one of the most confrontational types of poses within the physical practice of yoga. For most people, this is because of an underlying attachment or presence of fear. Aside from the obvious fear of falling back, this motion of reaching your heart up and drawing your body back exacerbates fear.
On a more physical level, the human spine is a fascinating combination of strength and flexibility. A healthy spine is one that frequently moves in the six accessible directions; either extension or backward. While the emotional aspects may weigh out the physical for some, and vice versa, awareness of whatever is causing this resistance for backbending is the first step toward change and success.
Approaching the emotional realm of backbends, it’s a good idea to sit down with yourself. There’s no better time to deal with these emotions than in the moment.
In many cases, it is conducive to stop in the moment and become aware of what’s going on as resistance presents itself. Take some time to jot down whatever it is that you are feeling and experiencing in your own words.
As you are putting these words down on paper, this is a step toward truly bringing your awareness to what is going on inside of you. From a distance or after your practice, you may have one perspective while being in the moment begins to shed light on a completely different underlying aspect. The more aware you become in the absence of any judgement or criticism, the more likely your success in releasing any hindering emotions.
Moving on to the more physical components, the first step toward achieving this action in your body is making sure your body is adequately warm. As backbending requires the shoulders to be open, focusing on this particular area of the body in your warm up will bring about more openness and ease. While most of us spend our days participating in contracting actions, backbending is all about expanding and opening up the front part of the body.
Some applicable poses in warming up your body for backbends include:
The last two are still intense backbends for some individuals so, it is important to take it easy on your first couple rounds.
Asanas such as Lunge pose and Reclined Hero pose also provide a nice stretch to the front of the thighs. Other relevant poses for recessing the chest and shoulders are any variation of Wide-Legged Forward Fold as well as any other contraction style of backbend such as Locust pose.
Strengthening your core is another constructive physical aspect of achieving success in your backbend. When you build strength in this area, there is a greater sense of control as you work your way into moving body backward. Also, backbends then become a form of balance within your practice as they counter the contraction associated with core work.
After focusing on this area, inversions are another useful group of poses as you move from working with contraction over to expansion. Adding in these poses will not only turn your world upside down, they will subdue your posterior and anterior muscles at the same time further warming up the back and shoulders. With any pose in yoga, the most common advice is to root yourself down in order to rise with stability.
Creating a solid foundation of alignment with your hands or feet, depending on the type of backbend, paired with proper muscle activation are definite keys in furthering your backbend prosperity. Knowing what exactly is going on in your body will also contribute to body awareness and overall progress as you look for what to feel each time your engage with back bending.
As your move throughout backbends in your practice, mindfulness in your body is crucial. It is very common for practitioners to compress the back of the neck in any form of backbend, whether mild or intense. There is a tendency to crank the neck back which can either cause or exacerbate any issues within the cervical part of the spine. It is helpful to remind yourself to look up instead of back.
Thinking about lengthening on your inhales and extending on your exhales is useful in order to refrain from any pain or injury in this movement. Instead of tilting your head back, try just allowing your gaze to shift up keeping the bend in your back as opposed to your neck. Another area important area of mindfulness is the lower back. Many have a tendency to compress this area especially if they have a more bendy back.
This is due to the lower Lumbar region of the spine also residing as a very common area of underlying injury. Building strength and openness in the inner thighs is a conscious way of preventing any form of lower back compression or injury. Props can provide support in this area such as blocks or straps. By either placing a block in between your thighs for poses such as Camel pose, or wrapping a strap around this area in order to create resistance and firm yourself up with stability and strength.
Balance is one of the most important aspects of any yoga practice. The amount of time you spend opening up the front part of the body needs to be countered by some mindful contraction. Some common poses you can use to follow any backbend include Downward-Facing Dog, Shoulder Stand pose, or Plow pose.
The overall benefits to your body from backbending encompass both physical as well as psychological and energetic. Back bending can bring an exhilarating level of strength and flexibility into your physical practice. They also work to open up the hip flexors and stretch out the psoas. They are one of groups of poses that engulf a wide range of physical benefits within multiple areas of the body. As you work with backbends you may find an increase of strength in your legs, arms, and back muscles.
Stretching the spine in this crucial manor can also alleviate any back or neck pain as well as improving overall posture. Due to the fact that backbends are heart opening poses, they work towards opening up this particular chakra, energy field, known as Anahata.
When we experience danger, fear, or trauma, it is our body’s natural defense to curl up and contract. Backbending helps us confront any stored or unresolved trauma in the body by surrendering and healing. With an open and healthy heart chakra, you are able to give and receive love freely which are central components in human psyche development.
Our prana or breath, is the guiding force behind any pose in our practice. As you move toward any areas of congestion or restriction in this space, stay mindful of bringing your awareness back to your breath. This shift in focus brings clarity to where your body may or may not be going. You are being created with the overall purpose of unconditional love which means that our hearts were never meant to be closed off to anything in this life.
As far as injuries are concerned, backbends are definitely still attainable even if you have any known issues within this space. At the same time, there are exceptions to this and as you know your body better than anyone it may be in your best interest to consult a doctor on this subject matter. With injury there are some backbending poses that may provide relief from tension while others may further inflict pain. Every situation and person is different that is why it is important to do your research on poses and possibly consult a yoga teacher for private lessons and guidance.
Furthermore, backbending can bring a whole new level of wonder to your physical yoga practice. It is important to keep in mind that progress is not always measured in such vast terms. True progress and success in anything lies within the consistency and dedication.