The Classic Backbends
What is a backbend really?
The name can be a bit misleading since the word "back" is part of it. Bending backwards actually invites us to lengthen the front of the body as well as be actively grounded. So.. these poses should probably be called "Front Openers"..
👉 One way to approach all backbends is to lengthen the distance between the pubic bone (front of the pelvis) and sternum (top of the chest).
👉 It can be very useful to work from time to time on stretching the front thigh and groin area (particularly quadricep and iliopsoas muscles). If you would like some ideas on how to do that check out this new video I made.
👉 Another thing we can explore in a backbend is creating an evenness of length and arch along the spine. It may be tempting to bend mostly at the lumbar region (lower back) since it has more range of motion, but attempting to distribute things in a more rounded and even way can lead to a much more pleasant, spacious, and safe backbending experience.
Cobra pose is an easy and accessible introduction to the basic patterns of backbending.
We can easily control the amount of bend we are doing in this pose, either do a gentle baby Cobra or gradually arrive at a more lifted chest and arched back position.
Whatever we do, we want to keep the hip and front thigh area on the ground, potentially pressing them down actively.
A few things you might want to pay attention to:
⭐ Pay close attention to your lower back making sure there is no compression or discomfort there.
⭐ Some ways to create a stronger connection to the ground and take pressure off the lower back are pressing the front thighs and groins into the ground and squeezing the buttocks muscles gently.
⭐ Make sure you can breathe well into the chest as you open it.
⭐ Create a feeling of length both in the front and back of the spine.
⭐ Lift the chin in a way that feels good for your neck and don't compress the cervical vertebras (neck area). Whether you lift your chin more or less, gaze towards the tip of the nose or towards the floor.
⭐ Don't lock the elbows! Better keep them significantly bent just in case.
⭐ And for those who want to refine the pose - Keep the belly relaxed, inner thighs dropping down, inner heals reaching back, and pelvic floor mildly toned.
Urdva Mukkha Sivanasana
(Upward Facing Dog)
Cobra's big sister!
It involves lifting the lower body up in the air.
Here are a few things to consider:
⭐ The previous Cobra Pose pointers are relevant for this pose too.
⭐ The sternum (top of the chest) should feel very light, almost like it's floating up towards the sky and the tail and pubic bone should be its counter part and create length backwards. The tailbone could even be dropping somewhat downwards.
⭐ Make sure you are not creating excess pressure or compression at the lower back. If that is the case, it might be a good idea to reduce the lifting of the chest and the rolling of the shoulders or be happy with a Cobra variation.
⭐ Press the back of the feet into the ground actively for support and stability which can also act as leverage for lifting and arching.
⭐ Make sure the shoulders don't go too far in front of the wrists so that you don't put too much pressure on the wrist joints.
Important side note!
These are just suggestions. It is always useful to try different patterns of movement and refinement and discover what works for you both at the moment of engagement as well as in the days that follow. Being mindful to sensations in the body is really the most important tool we can use when it comes to our yoga practice. It will help us move our body more intelligently, avoid injuries and pain, and help us get to know our body in a more profound way.
You can embark on further investigation of these poses and more on the next Masterclass!
Wishing you happy backbending :)