How do you do a backbend safely while fully experiencing all of its benefits? For many, backbend stretches are an essential aspect of a yoga practice. They can feel amazing, opening your spine and heart, releasing deeply-held tension and invigorating your mind and body. However, backbends can easily be done incorrectly, putting unnecessary stress on the spine, particularly the lower back, and potentially leading to chronic problems. We’ve created this page to help you understand how to do a yoga backbend with grace, lightness and ease. Below, you will find information on the benefits and risks of backbends, along with classes and tutorials that will teach you how to move safely into a strong, well-aligned backbend.
THE BENEFITS OF BACKBENDS
Backbends bring many benefits. They:
- Wake you up, energizing and giving you a boost of energy, mental clarity and life force.
- Calm you down, stimulating your sympathetic nervous system, helping relieve stress, anxiety and insomnia.
- Stimulate the immune system by compressing your thymus gland, spleen and lymph nodes, stimulating the movement of lymphatic fluid.
- Move energy (prana), through your body, helping clear blocks and bringing vital energy to areas that need it most.
- Contribute to spinal health by helping to orient your spine in a healthy, tall, aligned position.
Backbend poses can put a lot of pressure on the most vulnerable area of the spine, the lower back. Because of its lordosis (forward curvature) the lower back already easily accommodates a backbending motion, and without proper stabilization your back can develop a pivot point, pinching the discs between the vertebrae and potentially leading to more serious issues if repeated over time.
LEARN TO DO A HEALTHY BACKBEND
Learning how to support your spine begins with locating, engaging and strengthening the deeper core muscles. We refer to them in yoga as your bandhas, and the two that are most responsible for core stability are mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. They are associated, respectively, with the pelvic floor (perineal muscles or pubococcygeal muscles) and the transverse abdominis. Other muscles, such as the multifidus and diaphragm, are also involved in core strength. Before we move into the video instruction, let’s address a few of the common questions.
Do I tuck my tailbone? Do I press my belly in? Do I tilt my pelvis?
The quick answer to all of the above is ‘yes!’. You absolutely want the pelvis to move with the backbend (to tilt back), which essentially tucks your tailbone. Pressing your belly in activates the proper abdominal muscles, which also helps tilt the pelvis back. However, while your pelvis needs to tilt so that your lower back doesn’t have to manage the backbend alone, your tailbone tuck shouldn’t be forceful. You aren’t wrenching your tailbone down with your glutes; your pelvic tilt happens when you activate your deep core muscles, which are designed to help support the lower back within a backbend. Learning to use your deep core muscles will help ensure that you’re moving your spine in a healthy way. Ok, let’s learn how to do it!