It’s hard to imagine yoga without backbending poses such as Wheel Pose and Bow Pose. But why do we need to backbend in yoga? The simple answer is backbends, like other asanas, prepare your body for sitting in meditation.
But backbends do more than prepare the body for meditation. Here are the seven benefits of backbends.
Boosts Spine Mobility
A healthy spine is a mobile spine. Backbends in yoga improve your spinal mobility by enhancing the spine’s flexibility and strengthening the muscles that surround it. According to this study, it increases the mobility of your spine and the flexibility of your hamstrings.
So many of us work behind our computers with bad posture. We usually hunch forward and round our thoracic spine too much. This bad posture leads to tight chest and back pain.
Backbending in yoga improves the posture by stretching and opening the chest. It reverses the effects of bad posture by also strengthening the muscles around the spine, such as the erector spinae and the quadratus lumborum.
Relieves Neck and Back Pain
Back and neck pain is a common ache we feel, especially if you overly flex your cervical and thoracic spine. But these pains can become chronic. Backbends such as Ustrasana or Camel Pose can relieve your neck and back pain by extending your back and neck.
Stretches Hip Flexors
Backbends are an effective way to stretch the hip flexors. If you tend to sit for a prolonged period due to work, your hip flexors are tight most of the time. This tightness in the hip flexors can cause lower back pain and pain in your hips and thighs.
Any backbending asana stretches the front side of the body, including your hip flexors.
Helps Blood Flow
Poor posture, whatever the cause, leads to poor blood circulation. When you have poor posture, the muscles and nerves are tight and the blood cannot flow freely. By improving your posture and stretching your body through backbends, you improve your blood circulation to the brain.
Enhances Cardiovascular and Respiratory Health
Backbends stretch all the muscles in the front side of the body, including the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle to use when breathing.
So, when you do a backbend and maintain diaphragmatic breathing, not only your back strengthens but also your diaphragm. Doing this improves your respiratory and cardiovascular health.
Balances Emotional Health
Once in a yoga backbending class, my yoga teacher said to observe and feel all the emotions that may come up. Backbends are heart openers because they open the heart chakra or Anahata. This chakra represents unconditional love for yourself and others.
When this chakra is balanced, you will feel confident, content, and harmonious with yourself and others. When it is not balanced, you will feel despair, rejection, abandonment, envy, and anger. Backbends open your heart so you can recognize and feel all emotions and find balance.
How to Practice Backbends Safely
Backbends come with many benefits. But you need to practice them properly and safely. Here are fundamentals you can follow for a safe and effective backbend practice.
Always Warm Up
Before doing any backbending pose, make sure you warm up first. Start with more accessible backbends such as Low Cobra or a Seated Cat and Cow.
Think about Your Whole Spine
Backbending works all the parts of your spine, not just your lumbar spine. Think about the other parts, such as your cervical and thoracic spine. Mobilize all these parts before getting into a backbending asana.
Furthermore, be mindful of the maximum range of motion of each part of the spine. You shouldn’t go beyond the range of motion to avoid injury.
Engage Your Core
Even if it’s a backbend pose, you still need to engage your core. By doing this, you can avoid overextending your low back and causing pain or, worse—an injury.
Stabilize Your Foundation
Before moving into a backbend, root down from your foundation to stabilize it to avoid injury and accident, press the ground with your hands or feet firmly.
Keep Your Pelvis Neutral
Engage your glutes in backbends, but keep your pelvis neutral. You shouldn’t overly tuck your tailbone and squeeze your glutes too much so you can keep the pelvis in a neutral position.
Backbend Yoga Poses You Should Try
Ready to enjoy the benefits of backbends? Try these backbend yoga poses below.
The Cat-Cow Pose combines two yoga poses that are excellent as preparatory for more advanced-level backbends. The cat extends the spine; therefore, it is the backbend. The cow is what flexes the spine.
Here’s how to do Cat-Cow Pose:
- Start in a Tabletop position with your hands and knees on the mat. Make sure your shoulders are on top of your wrists, and your hips are on top of your knees. Contract your core, so your back is straight.
- Inhale and bring your belly button down to extend the low back. Then, open your chest and lookup.
- Exhale and bring your chin close to your chest to run your upper back, and then tuck your tailbone a little. Bring your navel toward your spine and up to your chest.
- Repeat for five rounds.
Reverse Tabletop is an excellent way to strengthen the back muscles while opening the chest and hip flexors.
Here’s how to do Reverse Tabletop Pose:
- Sit with your feet flat on the ground and hip-width distance apart. Bring your hands to the back with your fingers facing the sides or pointing toward your heels.
- Inhale and engage your glutes in your back muscle. Then, lift your hips off the mat. Let your head relax. Make sure that your shoulders are away from your ears and your core muscles are contracting.
- Exhale and slowly bring your buttocks down.
- Repeat for five rounds.
Cobra is a backbend that is very common in yoga. When attending a yoga class, you will probably be practicing at least three Cobra poses.
Here’s how to do Cobra Pose:
- Come to your prone position with your belly on the mat and your knees fully extended.
- Bring your hands under your shoulders and spread your fingers wide.
- Inhale and slowly push away with your hands to bring the chest up. If you can, extend your elbows fully. If not, keep your elbows bent. Engage your core and glutes and relax your shoulders.
- Stay in Cobra Pose for three or more rounds of breath.
Locust Pose is another backbending asana that you can practice and modify based on your experience. For beginners, you can place a folded towel or blanket under your hips. For a more challenging Locust, you can extend your arms overhead.
Here’s how to do Locust Pose:
- Lie on your stomach with your hands to your side. Turn the palms to face up. Extend your knees and your elbows fully. Relax your shoulders.
- Inhale and lift your chest, arms, and legs off the mat.
- Exhale to bring your legs or chest in your hands down.
- Repeat for three or more rounds.
Bridge Pose is an excellent preparatory post for Upward Bow Pose or Wheel Pose.
Here’s how to do Bridge Pose:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Keep the feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Bring your hands to your side with the palms facing down.
- Inhale as you slowly lift your glutes, engage your core and glutes so that you’re not overextending your low back.
- Hold Bridge Pose for three or more rounds of breath.
Fish Pose is a backbend that opens your chest and your neck.
Here’s how to do Fish Pose:
- Lie down on your back and place your hands alongside your body with the palms facing down.
- Take an inhale and slowly push your forearms down on the floor and lift your chest. Keep the crown of your head down.
- You have the option to bring the hands under your sacrum or lift them. You may also raise your legs.
- Hold this post for a few rounds of breath.
Backbends are excellent for improving the mobility of your spine. But make sure you practice with caution so that you can reap the benefits instead of incurring injuries.