Backbends are a beautiful part of every yoga practice. Moving the body forward is easy, but leaning backward requires special care and attention.
It’s worth the extra effort, though, because backbends allow the body to open up, especially the heart center. When you open up the body, it becomes more relaxed and receptive to every part of life. Everything opens up, in a good way. So, let’s separate, and then connect.
The Importance of Alignment in Backbends
Alignment is so important when you’re mastering a pose in yoga. When you learn to hold your body in the right form, each pose can come together with ease and allow flow. If there’s no alignment and your body is not in balance, there will be struggle and strain, which need not be so.
And you’ll know which area needs to be worked on because it’s the same area you’re having ‘trouble’ with.
To improve your practice with backbends, there are three body parts to prepare that will allow you to enjoy the pose and more fully benefit from it: the shoulders, chest, and back.
Many people have issues with one or more of these. By taking the time to stretch and breathe into them, you’ll feel your muscles create more space, strength, and length to find the right alignment in the pose.
Why Breath Is Important
Another point to make is that breathing is very necessary, especially with backbends where sometimes people can get dizzy because of the upside down nature of the pose. Breathing through the mouth or in some uncomfortable position adds stress and strain, which makes you lose strength.
Your breath needs to be relaxed and fully engaged when doing backbends, because you are allowing your body to open up. Breathe through your nose, stretch on the exhale, and your whole body will feel the difference.
Here are some simple stretches that will add big impact to your backbends.
- Stand about a leg’s length from a clear wall. Placing your palms firmly on the wall, gently stretch your head and neck downward, as far as you can comfortably go without straining.
If it feels uncomfortable, walk your hands further up on the wall and try again. Legs should be shoulder width apart, your back straight. Be sure to breathe and stretch your neck on the exhale. Inhale, and return to the starting position on the exhale.
- Find and hold onto anything straight and taut—a bar, an exercise band, a towel. Without arching your back, pull your arms up and back on the exhale.
Your grip should be firm, a little wider than shoulder width apart and your reach should also be what you’re comfortable with, without arching your back.
Inhale and return to starting position on the exhale. Never let the shoulders twist, with one going forward and the other backward. Always keep them squared and relaxed.
If you think you need extra help, any experienced yoga teacher can guide your shoulder stretch and confirm whether you’re using proper form or not.
Resume the starting position of the shoulder stretch, about a leg’s length from a clear wall, legs shoulder width apart and your palms firmly placed on the wall. But this time, stretch your head and neck up and let your chest move forward.
Your arms should stay completely straight while you arch your back. With this one small movement, you’ll be amazed and really feel the expansion of the chest area. It’s a great opener.
Kneel comfortably on the floor with your spine stretched tall, and your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed. Move your hands behind you, fingers pointing up and palms pressing against the small of your back. Gently arch your back and breathe, with each exhale going deeper.
Make sure to lean the body forward to maintain balance as you deepen with this stretch so as not to fall backward. You want to expand your arch and feel the support of your breath and your hands as you open up.
Practice these regularly and notice how your whole body—and even your whole life—starts to open up in brand new, beautiful ways.