Building Your Backbend
A slumped posture, tight muscles, and achy joints will create a depressed, tense, and irritable disposition. Meanwhile an open, strong, and flexible body and will help engender an uplifting, courageous and resilient approach to life.
One of my favorite ways to explore these truths is through backbends. Backbends are enormously challenging and also incredibly rewarding. If not done correctly you can seriously hurt you back.
But if done safely–after sufficient warmup and with a version of the pose that works for your body–you’ll receive the benefits of lifting your heart, keeping your chin up and seeing the world in a whole new way.
Building from the Ground Up
While the term “backbend” might seem like the focus is on your back, to deepen these types of poses you actually need to stretch the front of your body.
The simplest way to do the right stretches is to build your backbend from the ground up. That means stretching the:
- Thighs (quadriceps)
- Hips (psoas, iliacus)
- Belly (rectus abdominis)
- Chest (serratus anterior, pectoralis major)
- Shoulders (latissumus dorsi, deltoids, triceps)
There are many ways to stretch these muscles, here are a few of my favorites you can try (and expect to find in many of my classes).
All of your quadriceps (four muscles on the front of your thigh) are connected to the tuberosity (top part) of your tibia (your shin bone). So by bending your heal towards your tailbone, you will lengthen your quadriceps.
This is a similar variation to the low lunge stretch. From here you can work towards Rajakapotasana, or King Pigeon Pose.
Hips (psoas, iliacus)
You can stretch the front of your tailbone (psoas muscles) by coming into a low lunge. To deep the stretch, add a side bend.
Find the stretch in high lunge by tucking your tailbone while reaching your right heel back.
Belly (rectus abdominis)
Upward dog is found in most vinyasa classes, however we rarely stay in the pose for longer than a few breaths. Get a nice stretch of your front abdominals by staying in the pose for longer.
Bow pose is another beautiful way to stretch your front abdominals while also strengthening your back.
Chest/ribs (serratus anterior, pectoralis major)
In cobra pose you really get to experience the opening up of the rib cage.
Challenge yourself by walking your hands closer to your hips and taking the chest even higher.
If you want to do a backbend correctly, you have to open your heart. Camel pose is the perfect pose to practice opening up the ribcage/thoracic region for progressively deeper backbends.
Shoulders (latissumus dorsi, deltoids, triceps)
To dig into the shoulders, try my absolute favorite pose: melting heart. You can do this against a wall or with your hands on a table, but if you’re on a yoga mat, come into it from tabletop. It feels so good you’ll never want to come out.
Finally, open up the shoulders/upper arm even more by stretching the triceps. The best thing about this stretch is that you can do it anywhere: at a desk, on the bus, or waiting in line.
While I’ve divided these backbend up into five anatomical categories, it’s important to note that you have one whole complete body, not a combination of disparate parts. Some of these stretches overlap with over areas of the body and more importantly, everything is connected to everything else.
As I like to say at the end of my classes, drink plenty of water, and keep your heart open.
With radical love,