Backbending can be a scary thing in Yoga, especially when we feel the first glimpse of pain when done incorrectly. That first discomfort can persuade us so easily not to attend backbending ever again. As I conclude the talk about pain, let’s see how we can safely bend our back with Yoga in order to feel GOOD.
Before I start, I need to mention this saying heard a little while ago amongst yogis – We bend so we don’t break!
Nevertheless, there are numerous benefits for backbending such as awakening our spine, increasing mobility, opening the chest which incredibly shifts the energy in the entire body and flexibility. A correct backbend looks as beautiful on the inside as it looks on the outside.
Everyone should work on bending their back more often, it’s not just for contortionists. Here are four Yoga poses and exercises which can easily be practiced every day in no more than 20 min. You can’t convince me you can’t set aside 20 min in your super-busy day to keep your back healthy.
When we are not looking at our belly rolls, we do spinal rolls. This is a gentle combination of cat and cow poses done consequently.
Cat pose – Starting in a table top position, we pull the naval in and the chin is slowly shifted towards the chest. Push the ground away from you, feel like a cat and pretend that there is a string pulling your spine up. Inhale.
Cow pose – Exhale, start gazing up and arch your back. Relax your belly.
The flow for spinal rolls – from the cow pose, shift your hips backwards and before they touch the heels, pull your naval in and find cat pose. The movement should be fluid and the transition should wake up and prepare your spine for deeper back bends.
Once you feel comfortable with this type of spinal rolls, you can jump in a downward facing dog (not actually jump, but you know what I mean), get on the tippy toes, chin into chest, lift your hips, arch your back and slowly shift into plank pose. When the shoulders are above your wrists, gaze up and arch your back while the hips lead the way back into downward facing dog. Try those movements paired with breathing for 5 minutes.
Shoulder Opening Exercises
A big misconception spread around people is that we should start bending through the lower back first and this couldn’t be more wrong. This might also be the reason why so many people experience pain.
A safe backbend will start with your head and neck – your gaze should be the first one to go towards the back. Your interlaced fingers and arms should follow in the same time or shortly after, pointing at what you are looking. Your upper back will be the next one in line to arch and lower back is the last one. I hope this will show you how important is to open and warm-up our shoulders first. A good puppy pose can do you good.
Puppy pose – starting in a table top position, keep your hips in a 90 angle position while you walk your hands in the front. Gaze forward and push your chest closer to the ground while your shoulders are opening more and more. If you have a friend or family member nearby, ask them to gently press between your shoulders blades to bring your chest closer to the ground.
Puppy pose next to the wall – stand next to a wall and place your hands directly in front of you with your elbows gently bent – this will be the distance between you and the wall. Walk your hands up and lean forward, aiming to place your chest on the wall, keeping your gaze up all the time. In this pose, is particularly important to keep your legs and hips parallel with the wall in order to feel the backbend.
Keep breathing deeply in those shoulder opening exercises for 5 more minutes.
Crescent Pose With A Twist
Now that we are properly warmed up, this pose will challenge both your balance and control.
Starting at the top of your mat in Tadasana, lift your right leg up and slowly place it towards the back of the mat. Bend your left leg on a 90 degree angle, lift your arms up, gaze forward and find Crescent Pose. When this pose feels comfortable we can start bending our back safely following the method explained above. Keep breathing and this way you will find stability and a deeper expression of the pose each time you come back into it.
Don’t forget to try it on the other side as well and allow yourself 5 minutes to flow through this pose.
Bridge Pose Next To Wall
You can start this exercise by measuring a leg between you and the wall. This is just for reference and the distance is forever changing as our back bends will become deeper in time. The distance between us and the wall will decrease.
When you finished the measuring, start bending with your neck, head, arms, upper back and lower back and find the wall with your hands. Try to push the wall away from you and you’ll feel your chest opening. When you feel comfortable start walking the hands down the wall, pause and breathe each time. When you reach the ground, you’ll find Bridge Pose. If you’re up for a challenge, start walking back with your hands and repeat the exercise until you are, let’s say, sick of backbending.
If you’re halfway through your first exercise of walking the hands down and you get tired or scared, slowly get back up and take a break. It’s not a competition.
Spinal Rolls and Waves
I am a huge fan of spinal rolls as I found that once you master those, everything else in your backbending journey will come naturally. I particularly like this tutorial video from Yoga with Zgung where she breaks all the movements down. She will make sure you warm up the spine before and build that back strength!
As mentioned before, this has never been a competition. This is a journey that we commit to do it right from the beginning. It takes time, patience and a lot of practice. Just like any other monumental thing in life we want to achieve. It doesn’t come overnight and even if it did, we wouldn’t learn to appreciate it so much.
Please comment and share your thoughts below! Don’t forget, I am here to support you on your yoga journey and don’t hesitate to reach out!