BACKBENDS. What does this word elicit for you? I’ve heard answers ranging from joy, passion, happiness and radiance – to fear, anxiety, and aversion. There are those yogi’s who happily drop into backbends, no problem, and those who would rather opt out of this part of class. One main purpose of backbends is to experience a deep stretch across the entire front body, especially through the heart center. Connecting deeper to the heart can stir up intense emotions, many we don’t want to look at. It is for this reason that backbends are so good for us! Not becoming attached to those feelings but allowing them to surface is healthy for the mind and body.
Backbends require intense physical and mental effort. Physically, the body should be carefully coaxed after an integrated warm up and mindful prep poses to really loosen up the vertebra and ensure maximum spinal extension.
Begin by kneeling on the floor with your knees hips width distance and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Bring your hands to your back, fingertips pointing down to help guide the tailbone down towards the floor. Rotate your thighs slightly inward to draw the sitbones up and narrow the hip points towards each other. Press your shins and the tops of the feet and toe into the ground.
Keeping your hands on you back for support, squeeze the shoulder blades together and inhale to lift our heart. Begin to lean back without pushing the thigh bones forward. Keep your chin near the sternum and hands on the pelvis. If it feels ok on the body, bring your hands to blocks or to the heels of the feet. (Turn your toes under to elevate your heels and make them easier to grab.)
Keep your spine as long as possible. Release the front ribs down and lift the front of the pelvis up. Press the palms firmly against the blocks or heels of the feet, keeping the neck in a neutral position that opens (but doesn’t harden) the throat. Keep lifting the sternum up to avoid compression of the lumbar spine.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out of the pose, bring the hands back to the hip points and begin to push them down towards the ground. Inhale lead with the heart and lift the head and torso. Rest for a few breaths in childs pose to counteract the backbend and re-center yourself. Let any emotions or thoughts that arose during the pose release with each inhale and exhale.
Benefits of this pose includes stretcheing the entire front of the body, the ankles, thighs and groins while opening up the chest, abdomen and throat. The back muscles get strengthened, posture is improved, and the organs in the abdomen and neck are stimulated.
If you have a serious low back or neck injury or high or low blood pressure, I would suggest taking a more restorative backbend.
Stop by next week for another yoga pose from the state of Washington. Going on a three week adventure but I’ve packed my travel mat and my stretchy pants! Namaste and aloha nui.