For me, anything that opens up the front of the body – which simultaneously denotes a contraction of the back of the body – is a backbend. We don’t need to get into a fancy urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose) to show the world we can do a backbend. A simple sethu bandhasana (bridge pose) is as much a backbend.
Rather than focusing on endpoints or Instagram-worthy photos, let’s take a look at the benefits of backbends.
Benefits of yoga backbends
- decrease stress and anxiety,
- improve posture,
- increase spine flexibility and mobility,
among so many other benefits!
- stretch the abdominals,
- energise us,
- increase oxygen levels,
- alleviate neck and back pain,
Strong yet open
Because we open the front body during yoga backbends, we require an openness and flexibility in the front – something we don’t often have because we tend to sit and slouch for the most part of the day. “Front” includes chest, abdominals, hip flexors and quads (front thighs). But aside from this, the opposite is also required, we need to have good strong back muscles, something that may also be lacking because of the sitting and slouching.
Still, there are some safety considerations when attempting yoga backbends, especially for the low back. At all times, the tailbone should be lengthening downward towards the feet or knees. This requires not just strength but also flexibility of the core and hip flexors. Be mindful of any pain in the low back, especially sharp pain, when practising backbends!
Another important safety feature is shoulder flexion, if it is an arms-over-head type of backbend. This requires flexibility in the chest and shoulders, so be mindful of any sharp pain at the shoulder joint. Speak to your medical or health professional if you experience any.
Personally, I feel that heart openings tend to be challenging because we’re always a little bit defensive: whether at work, at home or even on the yoga mat. Because of this, we tend to physically in a defensive posture, with our rotator cuff muscles tight, pulling our upper chest downward into our ribs and lungs. To get that openness again will require not just work in the physical, but also the subtle body
To move a little into some yoga philosophy, backbends helps us to connect to the anahata (heart) chakra. This chakra exposes us to relational capacities: empathy, compassion and sympathy, for example.
This space is said to be the bridge between spiritual and earthly aspirations, both in yoga and in reiki. The element that you best focus on when focusing on yoga backbends is air, so focus on your breath, the air around you and within you. See if you can connect to a spaciousness within you.
These are just some quick thoughts on backbends! Let me know your thoughts or queries in the comments below!