bending over backwards

10:07 PM

We've all heard the saying 'bending over backwards.' It's used when someone thinks they're doing so many things that its unnatural. If I asked you to do a forward bend, would you be worried or nervous? No, of course not! We spend so much of our daily life bending forwards that it's nothing unusual. Backbends are not part of everyone’s routine and can be quite daunting. However, the reality is that backbends ARE completely natural. Our backs are made to bend in all directions, and practising backbends has many benefits both mentally and physically.

I always thought that you had to be extremely flexible and strong to attempt any sort of backbend and that only advanced yoga students could perform poses like full bow, wheel and scorpion. Once I realized how enjoyable yoga could be when they were included, I didn’t look back! Backbends are my favorite part of yoga. Although challenging, they have the ability to open up your back in different areas and strengthen and stretch through your legs, back, shoulders and arms. (Maybe they should be called body bends!) They open through the chest and heart chakra, which I find to be one of the most refreshing and inspiring feelings in my practice.

Warm up

Always make sure you warm up before attempting backbends. I like to start with a bit of cat and cow: taking the transition slow to begin with and gradually speeding it up. This will warm up the whole mid section. I find that increasing the pace turns it into more of an aerobic exercise, which stimulates more energy flow and warms the muscles up faster. I also like to take a gentle bridge pose, engaging your abdominals and thighs as well as something to warm up the shoulders.

Respect your individual limitations

Yoga starts with respecting your body; understanding that everyone starts somewhere different and everyone’s progress is different. It is important especially in backbends, to be aware of your body and know your limitations. Practice backbends in moderation and don’t push yourself too hard until you are aware of exactly what your body can handle. Work at your maximum with mindfulness and patience. 

Regular practice

Backbends need regular attention, as it is very easy to loose flexibility in your back if you don’t do them. Once you start backbends, you will become more aware of your body and probably find that your back feels stiff if you haven’t done them for a while – I do! It is ideal to practice backbends daily, especially when starting out because it is best to only do small amounts at one time. I would also suggest taking a day off each week to allow your back to recover. Practicing everyday does not mean repeating the same poses. It is a good idea to take advantage of the variety of backbends there are. Different backbends need you to learn to relax in different areas. This takes a lot of practice, and learning to pinpoint tight areas will take time and patience.

Feat. my cat spotting for me ;)

Using your breath

As you probably are already aware, yoga focuses on using your breath to move to and deepen poses. Where we would usually use the exhale to deepen into a forward bend or a twist, we use the inhale in a backbend. This is to protect the spine and avoid injury.  For example, in sun salutation you inhale into upward facing dog (cobra). This applies to all backbends in your practice, even if they are not part of a sun salutation. Using your breath to deepen in backbends is a mental battle more than anything. Hold the pose for a few breaths, allowing the full length of your back to bend a little bit more each time you inhale and relax into it as you exhale. Once you feel you have reached your maximum you can hold the pose in this position for a few more breaths before gently coming out of the pose (also on an inhale.)

Something to remember when attempting backbends is to allow the full length of your spine to relax into the backbend. People often think that you should fold in the middle of your back, but this is not the best way to get the most out of a backbend – or the safest way to perform them. The lumbar and lower back area is naturally more flexible than the upper back as the upper back has the purposefully rigid ribcage attached. It is important to treat the back as a whole and not only bend the lumbar.

 Using these techniques will allow you to gradually get deeper and deeper into your backbends. After attempting deep backbends it's always nice to counteract with a forward bend and some twists. 

My top 5 favourite backbends

1) Crescent moon pose

2) Single leg king pigeon 
[Eka Pada Rajaka Potasana]
 3) Drop-backs using wall
[Tadasana to Urdhva Dhanurasana]
 4) Dancer's pose / Standing bow 

5) One legged wheel pose
[Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana]

xx Courtney

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