If you work a job where you are sitting most of the time, it is likely that your posture is hunched primarily due to computer usage. People also hunch when they are looking at their cell phone – next time you go out, watch someone as they text or play on their phone. Their shoulders will often be hunched, and their neck protruded forward. Or if you are sitting at home watching TV or playing a video game. All of these are daily habits that we don’t realize we are doing but most are, so here are 5 primary reasons we should be backbending daily!
1| Improve your posture, breathing capacity, and increase energy.
Backbends help counteract the damage of bad posture by bending the spine in a direction it isn’t used to. They help to realign our vertebrae while at the same time stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. They open the chest, lengthen the spine, and strengthen the upper back, all of which make our posture more straight.
Backbends are great for helping open the shoulders and chest – a primary area where many of us hold tension. Most people have shoulders that are rolled in, and a head that is cranked forward, like some of our elderly population – this makes our breathing shallow and lungs compressed. Practicing daily backbends will crack open this area, and subconsciously encourage us to keep our shoulders rolled back. Ultimately getting rid of tension that cramps our lungs and makes breathing shallow and uneasy. Once our chest starts to open, there is more space created for our lungs, allowing for deeper breathing and thus more oxygen flow through the body, translating to better mental and cardiovascular function.
Additionally, backbending is a great way to give yourself a boost of energy. If you’ve ever done a backbend, then you’ve felt that rush of energy that invigorates the whole body. Your breath feels deeper and your sense of awareness sharpens. Backbending helps stimulate all chakras in the body, and clears energetic imbalances that make way for a huge boost of energy – once again, increasing our breathing ability. As we know, breathing is the true key to embrace the prana (life force) that makes us feel alive.
2| Stretch the hip flexors.
The hip flexors are the muscles that allow us to lift our knees and bend at the waist. They’re found deep in the abdominal cavity, and cause pain for many individuals (especially if you are a runner, or bicyclist). The pain is often felt in the upper groin region where the thigh meets the pelvis.
Backbends are great hip flexor openers, as they extend the hips and give these muscles a chance to stretch. Be careful, however, as tight hip flexors can make backbends a little difficult, and may require other hip-opening exercises beforehand to get the really deep hip stretch that backbends will give.
3| Keep your brain and heart healthy.
B.K.S. Iyengar recommended backbending as a cure for depression, and suggested using backbends as a holistic alternative for heart patients. When you do a backbend, you stretch the heart, not only relieving tension stored in the muscles but you allowing the body to send off natural pain-killers too. Chronic back pain, which can be restored through backbends, has also been linked to the lowering of grey matter in the brain. Save your brain and do a daily backbend!
4| Strengthen your back and alleviate back pain.
You can easily gain spinal strength with the help of backbends. I had back surgery last year and have slowly added back in backbends, and I can’t tell you how much stronger I am and NO PAIN. Backbends require lifting the body against the force of gravity, which helps build strength. Baby cobra pose, warrior I pose, locust pose, and bridge pose are all great backbends and fool-proof spine strengtheners. As I’ve already stated they are great for helping alleviate back pain. Our back is often in a state of chronic pain because we spend so much time bending forward, and not backward. When we start practicing backbends, we counteract the impact of continuous forward bending, and ease stress on parts of the spine that are often stuck in the chronic forward-position. This will also help you stand straighter, which again, is another reason so many people experience back pain.
5| Stimulate the heart chakra and learn how to move through fear.
Backbending opens up the chest (heart space), which is connected to our sense of well-being and connection with others. Many people often get very emotional when they do a deep backbend (like camel, king pigeon, or upward facing dog). Whether you’re flexible or not, when first learning how to bend your back, you may experience emotional releases which allow us to grow.
Many people are fearful of backbends, especially deep ones like Kapotasana (Pigeon), Ustrasana (Camel) and/or Urdhva Dhanuransa (Upward Bow) that make us move outside of our comfort zone. However, once you step out of that zone, you’ll really start to notice change. Facing our fears and coming face-to-face against our physical edge teaches us to develop patience – especially with backbending when we are forced to form a deep trust with ourselves. Once we achieve that, we can apply it not only to our yoga practice, but use it as a tool to form a sense of daily intuition and empowerment. Don’t run away when things get tough and emotional – backbends are an amazing thing you can do for your body, and will make you a stronger individual both mentally and physically. Remember to just breathe through it!
As international yoga instructor Kino MacGregor says, “one of the deepest lessons in the yoga practice is about bringing the energy up the spine and cleansing the nervous system. Backbends thrust your full life force up through this central channel and burn through blockages along the way. When one of these blockages gets triggered it really does not matter whether you are doing a deep backbend or a beginner backbend, because the emotional state that gets triggered is really of paramount importance.”
Join us all month long for a more focused look at backbends in our Foundations classes and keep an eye out for their incorporation elsewhere on the schedule!
At LiveURYoga, we want you to grow safely in your practice and we are taking a more proactive approach to providing a structured growth opportunity for all who come. Each month in our Foundations classes we will have a focus of movement or philosophy to ensure we are growing as a community (Sangha). We will offer specific instruction on our focused subject and of course provide a flow of movement to educate you within the class.