Why backbends?

Recently I asked what students wanted to know about backbends. The questions were similar and so I thought I’d write a little article to outline some of the answers to help folks understand just why backbending is such an important part of a well rounded yoga practice.

What are the benefits of doing regular backbends?

When done skillfully, backbends are amazing for body, mind and spirit. Because of the opening that happens for the front of the body, backbends help us to release stored emotion. This gives us greater access to our innate capacity for joy, courage, enthusiasm, and strength. It’s incredibly empowering to remember those inherent characteristics inside ourselves.

Because the front of the body including shoulders, chest, belly and groins is opened, our lungs get more space. Better breathing results in greater oxygenation of the blood which serves to alleviate dullness of mind or heart and the apathy and lethargy that can accumulate in modern life.

Backbends are also wonderful for creating tremendous strength and suppleness in the legs, back and shoulders as well. This increased strength and flexibility will serve us in just about anything else we choose to do in our lives off the mat! Running, cycling, swimming, dancing, climbing, surfing – you name it. Backbends done well will help, particularly if you experience back pain in your day to day life now.

Can you overdo backbending?

Of course. As with just about everything else in life, moderation and discernment are key. When done well and in the right sequence, backbends are great. Done poorly, too much or at the wrong time of day can be detrimental.

Generally, backbends ought to be done earlier in the day. Because they are so stimulating, many people find it difficult to sleep if they do backbends in the late afternoon or evening.

When practicing backbends, it is important to monitor your internal state closely. If you end up feeling jittery, anxious, hyper, spacey or nauseous, you may have done too much. Over time, you’ll be able to build capacity for backbending and also, sensitivity for how much is enough.

When in doubt, do less. There is always tomorrow. A little bit done regularly is way better than blowing out your circuits in a single marathon practice. Yoga is meant to be something that is practiced over the long haul and the poses are merely a means of getting to know ourselves better. With that increased knowledge comes respect, kindness and good judgement. Whether or not you ever perfect a particular form of a pose or not is beside the point.

What anatomy makes backbends difficult for some but naturally easy for others?

A whole host of factors come into play here. First of all, there is the degree of pre-existing strength and flexibility of hips, legs, back and shoulders. That being said, very rarely is it a case of your anatomy being the limiting factor in your eventually getting into a deep backbend. With enough time dedicated to opening and skillful alignment, most people can do things they never thought they could. Often, when people think it’s an anatomy thing stopping them from going deeper into a pose, they just lack the proper knowledge about how to align their anatomy.

What warm up postures should be done in preparation for deep backbends?

Lots of warming up the spine and opening the fronts of the shoulders and hips.

What are safe backbends to encorporate into a home practice?

With enough awareness and skill, any backbend is suitable for practice at home. Belly down backbends like locust variations are great places to start because they help to develop strength in the legs and back.

For more information on how to skillfully and safely align in your backbends, stay tuned for an upcoming Play Date on the topic or come along to regular classes. We explore backbends quite often since they’re so potentially beneficial.