Remember as a kid how easy backbends were? It was just something fun to do on the playground. Little did you know how much you were doing for your body and your mind.
Backbends are known as heart openers. That may sound a little abstract, but what they’re really doing is stretching the muscles of the chest that surround the heart, and when those are relaxed, your heart and lungs gets a little more breathing room.
Backbends also open the hips where a lot of us store our stress and emotional upset. By getting the energy flowing again, backbends help to release all that pent up negativity and other junk.
There’s no denying that backbends can be hard and they can be scary. But you also don’t have to immediately drop into a full wheel from a standing position. Like just about everything else in yoga, there are postures to ease into backbending and there are postures that will push you to your edge.
Entry Level Backbends
Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge is a great way to ease into backbending; it’s easy to modify and do only what you can do. If you can only lift your hips a few inches off the ground, that’s a great place to start. And if even this is a lot for you, place a block or bolster under your hips for support.
As you get more comfortable with the pose, you can raise your hips higher, reach your hands toward each other underneath you, and allow your front body to open even more. Most important is that you just keep breathing.
Cobra will help you start to strengthen your back while opening your chest too. By building your back muscles, you’ll also be helping to protect your back, which is incredibly important as we age.
Tip: You’ll be pushing the ground away with your hands, but as you do so, you also want to use your back muscles to lift your body up and continue reaching your front body forward.
Intermediate Level Backbends
Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
When you think of backbends, you most likely think of wheel, also known as Upward Facing Bow or full wheel. It’s one of the more iconic yoga postures, and it’s certainly a challenging one—even for yogis who have been practicing for years.
One of the amazing features of this pose is that it ignites all seven chakras to help the whole body reach a state of harmony and balance.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Don’t be fooled. Just because you’re lying on your stomach, doesn’t mean Bow Pose doesn’t bring a good amount of challenge. This is one of those postures that if you haven’t done it in a while, your body will let you know – in a good way of course.
Bow pose strengthens the backs of your arms down to the backs of your legs and just about everything in between. It also helps ignite digestive and reproductive organs to keep your body running smoothly. While it may seem counterintuitive, if you suffer from back pain, Bow Pose may help relieve the tension and therefore, the pain too. Just be careful you don’t force your body into a posture it’s not ready for.
One-Legged King Pigeon
So, you feel like pushing your limits? King Pigeon will take you there. But be careful, this is a not a pose to rush into. Make sure your body is fully warmed up and your shoulders, chest, back and legs loosened. You also want to ease your way into it, because rushing it will only cause frustration and possible injury.
Once you’re able to grab onto that foot with both hands and hold it, still breathing, you will feel an opening in your chest and a release of emotions that no therapist or medication could ever achieve.
Not only is Scorpion pose serious business as far as backbends go, but it also requires you to turn upside down and balance on your hands. It’s the perfect trifecta to challenge the advanced yogi. Accomplish it, though, and you will feel like you can take on any predator no matter its size.
Like all advanced backbends, make sure your spine is sufficiently warmed up before even attempting this pose, and then as you’re learning it, make sure you have someone to help you ease into it.
Backbends of some sort should be included in all regular yoga practices, but always be sure that your spine is warmed up and that you’re listening to your body. The last thing you want to do is force your back into a position it’s not ready for. Also, keep in mind that counter postures such as forward folds are a great way to bring your body back into balance after challenging backbends.