Backbends are by far my favorite class of yoga poses. Not only do they look beautiful but they feel amazing. Plus, they are an important part of a well-rounded yoga practice and there are many benefits of practicing backbends. They tone and lengthen, and increase blood flow around the spine and diaphragm.
I know that not everyone feels this way about backbends and in fact, some may anxious about practicing backbends. And they can be scary and intimidating, much like inversions because they ask that we move our bodies in a way that we aren’t used to.
So what are the benefits of practicing backbends? Here are some of the major reasons to incorporate backbends into your practice.
1. Counteract rounded shoulders
Do you sit in front of a computer all day or have a long commute? Do you notice that after sitting for a while, your shoulders start to slowly slump forward and your posture starts to sag? Backbends stretch the front of your chest and help you to draw your shoulders back and shoulder blades together, counteracting the shoulder slump.
2. Increase mobility of spine
We spend the majority of our day bending forward in one way or another – sitting, driving, texting, picking things up. But our spines are meant to be mobile. By practicing backbends, we can improve flexibility and balance the mobility of the spine.
3. Improves posture
When we bring awareness to and increase mobility of our spine, we start to bring our body into alignment. As a result, we start to stand taller and improve our posture. And better posture can help to alleviate some neck and back pain.
4. Boost your mood, relieve stress and wake you up
When I feel stressed or down (or start to get cranky and whiney), I often turn to backbends. It’s amazing what it can do. The action of opening your heart and stretching the whole front line of the body stimulates the nervous system, waking you up and improving your mood. It can be invigorating and that boost of energy can help to alleviate stress.
5. Opens the heart and the mind
When we feel vulnerable, our tendency is to curl inwards, to protect ourselves. Our shoulders round forward and we begin to slouch, almost as if we’re creating a protective field around our heart.
Backbends aren’t called heart openers for nothing. In a backbend, you are literally stretching the front of your chest and opening your heart, almost as if you’re cracking open the front of your chest. I know that it sounds a little kooky but it literally makes me feel more open and receptive to emotions, experiences, relationships and love. It may be because in these postures, we stimulate the heart chakra. This is one of the biggest benefits of practicing backbends for me.
Practicing Backbends Safely
There’s a lot going on in backbends. Of the three sections of the spine, the lumbar and cervical spine are the most mobile while the thoracic spine is the least mobile. In a backhanding practice, we need to stabilize both the lumbar and cervical region in order to mobilize the upper back.
It’s really important to warm-up well before practicing backbends including the following:
- Mobilize the spine in all different directions. Think cat-cow, side bends and gentle twists.
- Open the front of the shoulders and stretch the front of your chest.
- Open your quads and psoas. While backbends appear to be all about the spine, they actually require strong and open quads and psoas.
- Engage your core. Engaging your core is a key part of a safe backbend practice. When your core is engaged (think belly up and in), you protect your lower back rather than crunching it.
- Don’t let your knees fall out in wheel or bridge pose. Instead, find internal rotation of the thigh bones. Think inner thighs rolling inwards and down towards the floor while in wheel or bridge or in and towards the back in camel pose. This will help broaden the lower back instead of crunching the lower back or clenching around the sacrum.
- Lengthen your tailbone strongly to protect your lower back.
- Don’t throw your head back in cobra pose or upward facing dog. It won’t make your backbend any deeper. The neck is an extension from there best of the spine. Keep the back of the neck long (think no wrinkles in the skin on the back of the neck).
- Lift from your sternum instead of throwing your head back. Imagine there’s a string attached to your sternum and you’re being pulled up by that string.
Backbends – love them or hate them? What’s your favorite?
This post is part of the Ask a Yogini series. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too! Leave any questions you may have in the comments below!
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