Backbends have so many amazing physical, and even emotional, benefits. Most of us are sitting in a car or at a desk for the majority of the week, which causes a lot of hunching over in our spine (and leads to bad posture as we age). These poses are literally reversing that action–helping us find space in our thoracic (upper-mid) spine, collarbones and chest. While it might sound cliché, the action of reaching through our chest – heart chakra – can be quite emotional. A lot of thoughts can come to the surface, challenging us and opening our hearts. These are 5 backbends, with variations for every level of flexibility, to practice daily (in the order of the gallery above):
Cobra (Bhujangasana): This pose is great for strengthening the back muscles for more advanced backbends, and finding space in the thoracic spine. (Level One Pose)
- Clasp your hands at your sacrum and as you extend your arms, let that extension lift your chest off the mat.
- Keep the legs on the floor and continue rolling the inner ankles and thighs up to protect the sacral area.
- Strengthen through your back muscles and keep your cervical spine (the neck) long and comfortable.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): This is a foundational pose in each sun salutation. (Level One Pose)
- Keep your hands flat on the mat shoulder-width apart and directly under your shoulders. Keep your feet hip width apart as well with the tops of your feet on the mat.
- Lift up through your forearms and spread across the collarbones as your shoulder blades roll down the back, creating space in your neck.
- The thighs should be off the mat here with your fingers and tops of the feet rooting into the mat.
- Keep widening the sacrum by lifting the inner thighs up and drawing the lower belly in.
Bow (Dhanurasana): Not only is this is a terrific backbend, but you also get a get stretch in your hip flexors and abdominal muscles. (Level One/Two Pose)
- Starting in cobra pose, bend your knees and grab the outer ankles. Keeping the knees no wider than hip-width apart, strongly lift the legs to peel the chest off the mat.
- Once your chest is up, continue rolling the outer hips towards the floor and the inner thighs to the ceiling.
- Be careful not to grip the buttocks because that will shorten your lumbar spine and cause discomfort.
Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): This is the perfect pose to prep for full bow and find space in your thoracic spine without compressing your back. (Level One Pose)
- With your ankles directly underneath your knees, straighten your arms to reach your heels–your finger tips should be able to touch the heels to know you’re in correct alignment.
- From there, roll the shoulders underneath the back and lengthen the buttocks towards the knees (to eliminate any space between your sacrum and the mat).
- On an exhale, slowly lift your hips towards the ceiling as you roll your inner thighs down, press into all 4 corners of your feet and relax the butt muscles. Do not move your neck here!
Upward Facing Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana): This is the most advanced pose out of the 4 listed above. Only practice this pose if you are comfortable in the others, because we don’t want to compress the back – it can lead to lower back problems which is never fun (believe me, I know!). Watch the instructional gif below! (Level Two Pose)
- Place your hands by your ears, shoulder-width apart so that the creases of your wrists are parallel to the mat (fingers point towards the feet).
- Work every single alignment point that you did in bridge, with your buttocks towards the knees and inner thighs rolling down, then ground into your feet and lift your hips – STOP when you’re at the top of your head.
- From here, Draw the elbows together (they should stay parallel), and on an exhale, straighten the arms.
- Relax the butt muscles and evenly distribute the weight in your body – your legs are working extremely hard and your chest is “breaking” open.
*Practice and all is coming! Don’t worry about walking your hands closer to your feet just yet–work on finding the space in your spine and the strength in your legs first with the tips above.
ATTN: Do not forget to counter each backbend with a forward bend to protect your back. Hugs your knees into your chest or release your sacrum in Happy Baby Pose (as pictured in the gallery above).