Backbends are heart opening postures known to be some of the most rewarding asanas in yoga. They open our whole body while boosting our happiness at the same time. In addition to expanding the capacity of the lungs, they increase our energy and flexibility. Be sure to practice them in lightweight workout clothes which allow you to move freely.
We spend a lot of time crouching over computers or using our cell phones, and spine elongation is something we could all benefit from. Backbends are often not practiced correctly, and this is why many are avoiding them since they feel discomfort. It is imperative therefore to have an understanding of their correct practice.
The first thing to bear in mind is that our spine should not be compressed, but elongated at all times. Focusing on extending through our legs will naturally lengthen our spine as well. The major part of our backbends should be the upper part of our back or the thoracic spine. You can achieve this by pushing your chest forwards and upwards.
Enter the posture on the inhale, when your ribs spread, allowing the vertebrae to move away from each other. It will naturally push you deeper in the posture. Along with your back, also focus on the opening of your hip flexors which you can do by including some hip opening postures in your practice as well. Good hip opening postures would be the Lotus pose, Pigeon pose, and lunges. You should also aim to open your shoulders which will make entering to the backbends much easier. Reverse prayer position and Dolphin pose are both great shoulder opening solutions.
Your gluteus muscles should be relaxed as much as possible. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be activated at all, just that you should divide the activation in the surrounding muscles, such as the hamstrings, as well. The lower back is directly affected by the feet alignment. Feet should be directed directly in front of you, like in Tadasana posture.
We shouldn’t be only relying on flexibility but also the strength in our back. That is why you should focus on some back strengthening exercises before attempting the poses that require deep flexibility. Having a robust developed back will minimize the chance of injury in backbends. Bow or camel pose is a great posture for back strength. Focus more on holding the asanas for some time than on going to the most in-depth version of the pose.
A muscle you should learn more about is Pectoralis Minor. It is a small muscle which plays a significant role in backbends. It is located in front of the chest, connecting your shoulders to your ribs. When flexible, it can help you to pull your shoulders back in backbends and to sit straight without rounding your back. This muscle can be stretched with more chest opening exercises and postures which twist the upper body.
Start with smaller backbends such as Bridge or Cobra pose and leave the more advanced postures like full Wheel for when you really feel strong and flexible enough. The safest option would be to consult a teacher or other professional when attempting to do new and challenging backbends.