Revive, rejuvenate, relax – how backbends can uplift your yoga practice & open your heart
Although we’re modern humans, with modern habits, jobs and lifestyles – our bodies haven’t actually evolved that much from our hunter gatherer days, when we spent much more of our time walking and standing than our own bodies have grown used to.
This means that a spine that was designed to be upright – with different types of vertebrae to support this column of flexible movement – is now often slumped forward at a desk, or at the wheel of a car – or even cleaning or gardening!
Too much forward bending – which can lead to poor postures – can lead to back and neck pain, restricted blood flow to our vital organs, as well as negative effects on our self-esteem and mood.
Backbending can look a little crazy and intimidating – but our spine is actually designed to bend forward AND backward; backbending is part of our natural range of movement. Not convinced? Check out 10 reasons you should be including backbending as part of your regular practice.
1. Improved posture – as we discussed, we tend to spend a lot of our time during the day sat in a chair, which is not a natural position for a human being – even though it might feel like we’re relaxed, and comfortable, it can really put some wear and tear on the body! Not just that, but now that we all have a smartphone in hand – we spend a lot of time doubled over – checking directions, messages, the works.
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 straighter and more upright.
2.Increased flexibility in the shoulders - Backbends are great for helping open the shoulders and chest – an area where many of us hold tension. Most people have shoulders that are rolled in, and a head that is cranked forward (“turtle” neck effect) – this makes our breathing shallow and lungs compressed, making us feel less than optimal. Practicing daily backbends will crack open this area, and subconsciously encourage us to keep our shoulders rolled back.
3. Stretching the hips – sitting all day isn’t just bad news for the back – it’s bad news for our hips. We’re designed to have loose limber joints, but sitting with the knees forward, and the hips in flexion, means that they stiffen up and can cause discomfort. Backbending is a great way to stretch out these often unused muscles and release tension in the leg and groin area.
4. Uplifting the mood – many yogic practitioners recommend backbend practice as a way to fight depression as a holistic addition to other therapies. As you relieve tension stored in the back muscles, you not only give off natural pain killers, but you also experience a natural high that can boost your mood, mental capacity and outlook.
5. Strengthening the back – it may seem that backbending requires crazy flexibility – but this isn’t necessarily the case. Backbends don’t just stretch us out – they strengthen both our back and core muscles, making us less susceptible to injury as well as chronic pain.
6. Alleviating back pain – by counteracting the continuous forward bending that we encounter in our every day life, we help to ease the pain associated with that.
7. Stimulate your heart chakra – in yogic philosophy, opening up your chest also opens up your heart space. This is connected to our sense of wellbeing, and allows us to connect more deeply with those around us – many people experience a rush of emotion when practicing backbends, as it literally opens you up to the world around you.
8. Improved breathing & lung capacity – as backbends open up the shoulders and chest – our lungs gain more space in our thorax, allowing for an improved oxygen exchange within the body. Not only does this have physical benefits – it also improves your mental function.
9. Improved energy – backbends are incredibly invigorating for the whole system – your senses sharpen, it clears energetic blocks, and we feel more alive and energised!
10. Overcoming your fear & anxiety – many people are nervous of backbends, which is completely natural. We are all hyper aware that we need to safeguard our backs and necks - but moving out of your comfort zone, and facing our fears can teach us patience, confidence and change your whole perspective on yoga.
Not sure where to begin? Book on to our workshop Saturday 16th September with the amazing Sue Hodgkinson - famed across the North West as an incredible teacher, leader and practitioner.
The workshop will incorporate a Dharma Yoga Flow, moving on to alignment, technique, and strengthening your back muscles to help you to safely and confidently open your heart and find your feet in backbending. The workshop will run from 1.30-4pm, and you can book online through our website.