A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about how back bending can benefit cyclists who spend quite a bit of time in a hunched up posture over their handle bars. But this posture is not unique to cyclists. Many of us spend hours bent forward going about our daily tasks (at computers, at desks, reading, driving).
Even our natural standing posture tends to be curved forward. Instinctively, we protect the front of our bodies; our throat, face and chest. We do this by taking a protective posture, covering the front of our body and closing in around it. Think about the times when you stand with your arms crossed in front, shoulders hunched forward and back rounded. It is a very protective stance.
We can all benefit from backbends to open the chest and front of the body and counter these tendencies that have both physical and emotional roots.
Backbends tend to elicit a passionate response from most. We either love or hate them. I love supported backbends but must admit the love stops there. Whereas I could unabashedly forward fold all day long, back bending is another story. (This is surely an indication that I need more backbends in my life …!)
Back bends require that you take a posture that is completely opposite to the naturally protective posture we crave. We intentionally expose the soft, more vulnerable parts of our bodies. This feeling of vulnerability can make back bending difficult and emotionally intense.
But it can also be quite liberating. Backbends encourage us to open the chest and heart, to inhale deeply — actions that symbolize embracing life.
“The act of being able to feel– to truly feel — is important for balance, whether physical, mental, or emotional.” Moving toward Balance – Rodney Yee
Benefits of Backbends
- Strengthen the back and increase mobility in the spine.
- Open the heart chakra and emotional center.
- Energize both body and mind.
- Expand and stretch the chest and shoulders, solar plexus, abdomen, hips and thighs.
A Few Ideas to Bring to Your Backbending Practice
Intend to bring your spine into an even arc so that no particular area is stressed. Certain areas of the spine (the lumbar region for example) have quite a bit more mobility than others. This makes it easy to depend more on these areas for backbends. Look for a sense of “evenness” throughout the entire spine.
Before taking any back bending posture, it is important to elongate your spine. Elongate first, then bend.
Because backbends often require quite a bit of effort, especially when starting out, there is a tendency to tighten the muscles of the neck and face. Focus on your breath, keep it continuous and flowing and release tension from these areas.
Relax your shoulders away from your ears, shoulder blades moving down towards your lower back. Also open the chest by bringing the shoulder blades together.
Although backbends may bring a sense of struggle (I know – I feel this strongly in Camel) try to clear your mind of these negative thoughts and focus on building a solid foundation for the pose. Then move into the posture with grace.
Always go slowly and gradually being mindful of the spine. Be compassionate and choose poses that are appropriate for your body.
Some Backbending Postures to Try
In his book, Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat, Richard Faulds lists some postures by category in progression from easier to more vigorous.
Supported Backbends or Belly Downs: Serpent, Half Locust, Sphinx, Boat, Cobra, Diagonal Stretch, Half Bow, Bow, Full Locust
Backbends: Parabola, Bridge, Inverted Table, Dancer, Standing Bow Pulling, Half Camel, Camel, Wheel
Do you have a love/hate relationship with backbends?!