The benefits of backbends in yoga are numerous. They are an essential part of a yoga practice. These poses will leave you feeling uplifted, energized, and open to new experiences.
Benefits of Backbends in Yoga
- decreases stress and anxiety
- improves posture
- increases spine flexibility and mobility
- stretches abdominal muscles
- gives you a boost of energy
- increases oxygen levels
- stimulates the heart chakra, which makes you more receptive to relationships and experiences
- helps to alleviate back and neck pain
Contraindications of Backbends
You should always consult your doctor before practicing yoga. It is also important to learn and practice yoga under the supervision of a certified yoga teacher.
Avoid backbends (or have your doctor and yoga teacher help modify) if you have the following:
- anxiety that worsens with backbends
- untreated hypertension
- low back pain that worsens with backbends
- spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis
- back or neck injury
Warm Up Before Doing Backbends
It is very important to be completely warmed up before doing backbends, especially if you are practicing an intermediate or advanced backbend. Backbends, deep backbends in particular, are best done towards the end of a full practice. Make sure you have done several Sun Salutations, as well many other standing and seated postures before moving onto your backbends.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Move your feet close to your glutes (so that if you reach your hands towards you feet, the tips of your fingers reach the backs of your heals). Press into your feet as you lift your hips. Make sure you don’t move your head around while in this pose. Hold for a few breaths and then come back down very slowly, starting at the top of your spine and ending at the bottom of your spine.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): Start by laying on your stomach with your hands placed under your shoulders. Inhale and lift your chest slightly off the ground. Your back is doing the work, not your arms. In fact, you should be able to lift your hands off the ground slightly and stay lifted in your chest. Hold for a couple of breaths and then return to the start position on an exhale.
- Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana): Start in table top (on your hands and knees) with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips stacked over knees. Keeping your hips lifted, lower your chest to the ground. Your arms reach out in front of you with palms facing down. Hold for a few breaths and then return to table top.
These poses, as well as the advanced poses, are easy to injury yourself in. Only do them if you have a developed yoga practice and can do them with ease. You can reap the same benefits of backbends in yoga from the beginner poses.
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana): Start laying on your stomach. Bend you knees and reach your arms back to hold onto your ankles or the insides of your feet. On an inhale lift your chest and thighs off the ground. Exhale back down and repeat if you wish. A yoga blanket can be used under your hips as a cushion if needed.
- Camel Pose (Ustrasana): Start by kneeling in an upright position with your toes untucked. Place your hands on your lower back, inhale and arch your back, pressing your hips forward. If this is comfortable you can reach one or two hands down to the back of your feet (tucking your toes under will make the reach not quite so far). Either keep your chin tucked or fully release your neck back. Hold for a couple of breaths before tucking your chin and slowly and mindfully coming up.
- Fish Pose (Matsyasana): Start by laying on your back with your legs extended. Using your forearms to prop up your upper back on an inhale, place the top of your head on your mat. Slide your hands with palms facing down under your glutes. Keep your elbows in tight to your body. To exit this pose, press into your forearms and lift your head, tuck your chin and slowly release back down.
These advanced poses are more easily explained with video.
- King Pigeon (Kapotasana):
- Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana):
- Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana):
It is important to note that after a deep backbend, you don’t want to go immediately into a deep forward fold. While doing counter poses are important, this extreme change from deep backbend to deep a deep fold can cause injury. You want to neutralize your spine first and then you can counter the pose.
Backbends are an essential part of a yoga practice. The many benefits of backbends in yoga definitely tell you why. Twists are equally as important and come with many benefits as well. Check out 6 Benefits of Twists in Yoga and Who Shouldn’t Do Them. This post outlines the benefits and contraindications that you need to know before doing twists.