Hello guys! It has been awhile since I’ve done a brand new yoga guide, and I hope today’s instalment will be useful for some of you out there who are looking to work on deepening your backbends and back flexibility!
Backbends help to open up the hip flexors and release tension in our shoulders and chest. It also helps with your standing posture especially if you have the tendency to hunch when you stand or walk. It also stimulates the heart chakra, which allows us to be more open in our emotions when it comes to our lives off the mat and when dealing with relationships.
Things to note!
Before you start, it is important to understand that backbends are NOT about crunching the lower back. That can add a lot of pressure and cause injuries to your lower back. It is often easier to dump your weight on your lower back to achieve a seemingly deeper backbend when in fact, it is very dangerous. Backbends involves so much more than just bending of the back – it involves strong glutes and open shoulders and chest. You should always think about lengthening towards the back of the room rather than collapsing downwards towards the floor.
Not only that, it is also very important to warm up before you start your backbend practice! It is not advisable to rush into a backbend cold. Warm up with a few rounds of sun salutations and gentle backbends before you attempt deeper backbends.
That being said, here are 6 great poses (with variations) that can help you work on your back flexibility!
1. Sphinx Pose / Cobra Pose / Upward Facing Dog
Always start off with gentler backbends such as sphinx pose before moving on to deeper backbends like cobra pose and upward facing dog as you warm up further in your sun salutations. Be conscious about pressing your forearms or palms on the ground and avoid collapsing into your shoulders. Open up your chest towards the front and try not to squeeze the back of your neck by dropping your head all the way. Your dhristi should be either in front of you, or slightly upwards.
2. Upward Bow Pose
This is one of my favourite poses to warm up my back and my entire body, and it also helps to open up your chest and shoulders as well. In order to stay in this pose for a longer period of time, you don’t have to go to your maximum yet, just play around with how far you can go by actively pulling your shins away from your thigh. This would also help to achieve a greater stretch and opening in your upper back as well. Keep breathing, and just rock back and forth in your upward bow pose.
3. Bridge Pose / Wheel Pose
Bridge pose is a great pose to work your glutes and prepare yourself for the wheel pose, if wheel pose is not in your practice yet. Be careful not to splay your knees out towards the side – make sure that they are parallel and hip-width apart. Open your chest towards your chin and be careful not to compress your lower back too much. You can clasp your hands underneath your lower back, or place your hands on the sacrum area for added stability. Feel free to take it up to wheel pose if bridge pose feels good for you!
To add in a shoulder opening into wheel pose, slowly straighten your legs and keep your neck neutral and relaxed. Keep breathing and straighten your legs on an exhalation. You can also take this to the wall and see if you can touch your chest towards the wall.
4. Extended Puppy Stretch (*Wall option)
This is definitely my favourite shoulder opening pose. I used to really dislike it because of the intense sensation that it brings to my shoulders. However, open shoulders are important in order to enter deep backbends safely! You can do this yin style and stay for up to 3 minutes. Remember to keep breathing, and make sure that your knees are directly below your hips. Work towards melting and eventually touching your chest towards the ground.
You can also take this to the wall by standing 1 arm length away from the wall, with your feet hip width apart. Place your palms on the wall right in front of your shoulders, and gently melt your chest towards the floor. This can give you a much deeper shoulder stretch as opposed to the previous option.
5. Camel Pose
This may be uncomfortable for some especially if camel pose is relatively new to you. It is normal to feel a little nauseous. Try to breathe through the nausea and exit the pose safely if it gets unbearable. Eventually, you will get the hang of it, and you will start enjoying camel pose!
This pose is great in terms of working your glutes in a backbend. You can either have your toes curled underneath or have the top of your feet flat on the mat. For a start, place your palms (fingers facing down) on the sacrum area, and go into the backbend gently by opening up your chest and *NOT* collapse your weight into your lower back. You can either stay where you are, or reach your hands towards your heels.
If camel pose is pretty manageable for you, take it up a notch by adding a shoulder opening into it. This is a great prep for a deep backbend, Kapotasana.
6. Standing Backbend (*Wall option)
There are many ways to get into a standing backbend. Either with your palms on your sacrum area, with your hands in prayer position, or with your hands over your head. Feel free to take any variations that you feel most comfortable in. Do remember *NOT* to collapse your weight into your lower back. Open up your chest and think about lengthening towards the back of the room rather than bending towards the ground behind you. Your feet can be hip width apart, or wider than hip width apart if that gives you more stability.
If you’re ready to take it up a notch, try it with a wall and it is a great way to start to practice dropbacks. You should stand about 1 leg length away from the wall, and as you bend backwards, slowly walk your hands on the wall and towards the floor. Remember to constantly engage your legs! Once you’re down on the floor, you can slowly walk your hand back up into standing. Do this slowly and keep breathing!
Cooling down after a backbend practice
It is important to know the right poses to cool down after a backbend practice in order to neutralise your back and prevent injuries. Core work is a great way to alleviate tension in your spine after a backbend practice. Not only that, gentle twists are also great in terms of neutralising and relief fatigue in your back after a backbend practice. I personally would avoid doing forward folds right after backbends, as the constant bending back and forth may in turn cause injuries in the weakest part of your back.
I really hope that this Yoga Guide is useful for some of you out there who are looking for poses to improve your back flexibility! Let me know what you think about this guide, and feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below. Have fun, and most importantly, stay safe! x