I admit it. It’s not a secret to my yoga friends and teachers…but I have a history of really disliking backbends. They make my body feel like a log. My lower back begins to ache, my shoulders, quads and hips, neck all scream at me.
The problem is, backbends don’t just include your back, they often ask that your whole body get involved.
I’ve recently started trying to embrace this action, which shows up so frequently in classes. My wish to avoid backbends must mean that this movement is something that my body really needs!
So I am slowly and conscientiously participating more in class, practicing at home, and adding certain postures to the classes that I’m teaching. Here are a few tips that have helped me:
1. Start small. It’s important to ease into your backbends. Small movements done repeatedly will gradually grow.
2. Make sure to spend time stretching your hips and quads before rushing into any deep backbending. Anjeyanasana is one of many good options to help open this area.
3. Take time to open your shoulders. Tight shoulder muscles can keep your heart from opening. We spend too much time slumping over desks, steering wheels, smart phones.
4. Keep your legs engaged while tucking your tailbone (without gripping your glutes too tight) and pulling low belly in. This activity in my lower body has taken the pinching out of my lower back.
5. Be gentle with your neck. There’s no need to throw your head back, which can be hard on the cervical spine. It’s okay to keep neck in a neutral positon and take an upward gaze.
6. Try a full backbend using a big rubber exercise ball. You’ll have to get the inflation right so it’s not too big, but I’m enjoying backbending over my exercise ball daily.
7. Don’t covet! Yoga is not competition. Others in class will have beautiful backbends. Maybe someday you will too…or maybe not. Don’t be attached to the outcome of your practice. You may never get full upward-facing bow, but who cares? Your body will definitely benefit from incorporating even small backbends into your life.
Benefits of backbends are many. They can boost the immune system, help realign the spine, relieve back pain. They are energizing and can help open your heart space. They’ve even been recommended for those who suffer from depression.
I’ve realized that not all backbends are scary. Cobra, upward-facing dog, camel and bridge can all be done gently and without a lot of strain on the body. I find sphinx pose down-right pleasant!
I hope one day to be able to drop back into a backbend, but if it doesn’t happen, it’s okay. I will be happily working my baby back bends until my body is ready for more.