If you observe yourself and those around you, you will see how much we close ourselves off just with our body language. We’ve gotten used to hunching over our computers and limiting our vulnerability through new forms of communication, like email.
What will help open us up to the world, while improving our posture?
These are powerful poses that offer many benefits, but there are many reasons that people limit or avoid them in their practices.
Typically we think of ourselves as having a frontward orientation because our eyes face forward. However, we need to find balance by exploring the other side—the back. This can be scary for many people because you can’t see where you are going in backbends, or in much of life for that matter.
They require trust, patience and strength of mind and body.
Physically, backbends strengthen the legs, back and arms. They open the shoulders and chest and stretch and elongate the spine, improving posture and lung capacity and strength. The extension of the back increases blood flow to the spine, which increases energy and relieves anxiety and tension. Backbends also stretch the front of the body, including the hip flexors and abdominal organs.
The physical benefits alone are great reasons to practice backbends. However, backbends also have so much energetic healing power.
Backbends are heart openers and they stimulate the Anahata(Heart) Chakra. Anahata means ‘unstruck’ or ‘unbeaten’, which is a fitting way to live our lives. By accessing your heart, you can live more fully, unbeaten by the things that frustrate or upset you. Once you open your heart you may release stored emotions like love and courage, but also sadness or fear. With this release, however, you can also find your true self and feelings of freedom.
As backbends and the unseen (unknown) can be scary, the process of practicing them improves your self-confidence and gives you the courage to try new things. Combined with opening your heart and seeing what you love, backbends will help you have the strength and courage to not only listen to your heart, but follow it.
So now that we have explored some of the benefits, which ones to do?
Backbend Poses and Categories
It is good to start with baby (gentle) backbends likeBhujangasana (Cobra Pose), its variation SalambaBhujangasana(Sphinx or Supported Cobra Pose) and Bitilasana (Cow Pose).
Once you gain openness and strength, explore some of the other back-bending poses:
Kapotasana(King Pigeon Pose)
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Depending on your particular practice, consider the three categories of back-bending poses: contraction, leverage and traction.
In these poses the muscles of the back are contracted to oppose gravity. A good example of this is Salabhasana (Locust). In this pose, you are lying on your stomach and you use your back muscles to lift your limbs and chest off the ground.
These are back extensions that use the ‘leverage’ of a stable object (for example, the floor) to stretch the front of the body. Bhujangasana(Cobra) uses the leverage of the hands against the mat to stretch the front of the body and extend backwards.
In traction poses, the muscles of the front of the body contract to oppose gravity while in a backbend. In Ustrasana(Camel) the front of the body will be active and contracted while bending back.Therefore the front of the body controls movement of the back of the body.
Backbends release a lot of prana(energy) so they can be exhilarating yet emotional. Practice them with greater awareness of yourself and your breath. Use them to bring love to your practice, for others and yourself. Allow yourself to explore your heart, your limits and your strength.
About the guest blog writer:
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. Learn more about Meera on her website by clicking here.