Ever watched an inspiring yogi pull off something like a one-legged wheel pose like it’s no big deal? Backbends can sometimes seem intimidating to beginners and those who aren’t so flexible, but the truth is, our backs can bend in all directions — not just forward!
Bending our backs in a way that feels far less natural than what we’re used to doesn’t mean we all have to make it a goal to eventually touch our heads to our feet. Sticking with gentle poses like bridge pose or cobra pose is often ideal given that they’re easy to modify in ways that feel comfortable and prevent injury while still working the back, core, upper body, and hips.
Regardless of how flexible or inexperienced you are, backbends can do wonders for your posture and for your overall health too. To really start embracing them, perhaps you just need to be reminded of some of the common habits you do every day that involve spending so much time bending and curling forward.
1. You have a desk job. Even if you’re doing everything right with sitting up properly and keeping your computer monitor at an appropriate height and position, a desk job can still take its toll on the body. Having your arms and extended out in front of you to type and move a mouse around is enough to call for a good stretch that opens the chest and relieves stiffness in the back.
2. You drive around in your car a lot. Similarly to sitting at a desk all day, sitting in a car for long periods with your arms extended in front of you and your hands on the steering wheel can cause the body to naturally curl forward. If you have a long daily commute, backbends can help counteract the effects of rounding your shoulders as you grip the wheel.
3. You slouch on the couch. Whether you’re watching Netflix or browsing your smartphone, chances are you’re not always so focused on sitting up straight with great posture when it’s couch potato time. Slouching, hunching over or curling up in a ball may be comfortable in the moment, but it isn’t great for your spine or neck.
4. You sleep in the fetal position. Sleeping on your side is perfectly good when your legs are bent just a little bit, ideally with a pillow between your knees to maintain proper alignment. Curling your knees toward your upper body while you sleep, however, is a bad habit that can cause strain on your back and joints, so combining backbends in your yoga practice with a new side-sleeping habit would probably be very beneficial.
5. You experience back pain during menstruation. Yoga teachers will often advise against poses like full wheel during menstruation because of how extensive the stretch is throughout the core and hip region, but gentler backbends can help bring some relief to those who suffer from back pain during that time of month. Try supported bridge pose (optionally supporting the hips with a block) or bow pose instead.
6. You don’t open up easily around other people. It’s in our nature to physically curl forward when we feel that we need to protect ourselves upon sensing potential threats that make us feel vulnerable. Backbends are heart openers, which work with the heart chakra to support the flow of abundance in our lives.
Always make sure to warm up your entire body before you practice your backbends and that you understand how to maintain proper alignment. Remember, if it doesn’t feel good or you don’t have the confidence yet to go deeper into your backbends, then don’t do it. Go slow, be gentle with yourself, and never stop being grateful for how amazing your body truly is.
Image (edited) via David Lowry