Backbends are an important part of our yoga or movement practice, helping us to open our hearts, release and let go of stuck emotions.
We should ideally have some backbends towards the end of our sessions, as it’s pretty deep work and it needs plenty of warming up and time to go deeper into them.
It’s common to think of backbends as something that will come once we have developed more spinal flexibility – however, the real work is not in the back, but in opening the heart and chest.
I have seen many times in yoga classes people sobbing after a deep backbend; yes this openness can release emotional stuff and feelings! All at a sudden, as we breathe, open and stretch, we find more space around the chest and we softly feel more love and a little less fear everyday… It’s a magical practice, a lesson on letting go and surrender!
So here’s some basic principles I’d like to share with you about backbends, from my experience practicing, learning and teaching:
1 – Take the pose out of the spine and into the limbs. This means, no pressure in the lumbar spine and sending the effort towards the shoulders/arms and the legs.
2 – Lengthen the spine! As you breathe into the pose, feel like you are opening bit by bit, like a segment, every space in between the vertebras.
3 – Keep the abdomen (Uddyana Bhanda) and Pelvic floor (Mulha Bhanda) enganged and firm. This will give stability to you backbend!
4 – Activate the glutes! This is a little controversial for some people. When is the last time you heard the cue to contract the glutes in a yoga class? Not very often, if ever. However, for most people this will prevent compression in the sacrum and using less efficient muscle groups. Just keep in mind that as you squeeze the glutes, you also need to internally rotate the femur ( keep the knees in!) by activating the adductors.
In general, backbends are really something you can’t push, it’ s really important to give it time and patience. Do not exceed or go too far, the spine is the most important thing we have!
Do safe progressions and remember there are SO many elements involved to perform a good backbend, so don’t rush it!
The Chinese say “ you are as old as your spine”.
So how old are you?
Keep the mobility by living dynamically and remember it’s all about the journey.
As always, the best thing you can do to improve is finding a good teacher and keep practicing.