Backbends are some of my favorite poses in yoga. How about you? I’m guessing if you’re here, reading this right now- then there’s a high likelihood that you’re a backbend lover too. Yay! You’re in good company.
On the other hand, if you’re newer to backbends in yoga, then don’t worry…I’ve got you. First let’s cover what the heck a backbend is. A backbend in yoga is a shape that opens the front line of the body, while extending and strengthening the backline of the body. Because the frontline of the body is opening, backbends are also often referred to as heart openers.
Backbends more obviously open the chest and shoulders, but let’s not forget what they do for the legs! These poses also open the hip flexors and quadriceps, while strengthening and tonifying the thighs and hamstrings. To cover the baseline of backbends, make sure to check out this post for more tips and tricks to start.
Like all poses in yoga, backbends come in all shapes, sizes, and intensity. It’s important to remember that backbends more traditionally show up towards the end of an hour-long yoga practice, because it takes that entire time to get warmed up for backbends. These shapes are intense! And they’re truly a full body experience.
Beyond the physical benefits, backbends can also evoke a strong emotional reaction, as well. So, if you feel a little vulnerable or teary after a backbending practice- don’t worry! That’s totally normal, and to be expected.
6 Advanced Backbend Yoga Poses
If you’re trying advanced backbend poses in your yoga practice, then I’m going to assume that you have a strong backbending practice already. The mentioned postures are intended to be for yogis who already feel comfortable in Camel Pose, Bow Pose, and Wheel Pose. Advanced yoga poses indicate that you already have an open front body (chest, shoulders, and hip flexors), as well as a strong back body.
Make sure to warm up before attempting any of the below yoga poses, as these are deep shapes for advanced students.
Start in regular Puppy Pose. Make sure your hands are tented onto the ground, so you find activation in your shoulders by lifting your armpits up and off of your mat. Keeping the hips lifted as high as possible, tuck your toes behind you and lift your knees off the mat simultaneously working your legs towards straight. Once you lift the knees and straighten the legs, you’ll notice a lot more pressure into your throat. Make sure you can still breathe, and try to magnetize your heart toward the ground, rather than dumping into the throat.
One Legged Wheel
Start in regular Wheel Pose. Make sure all 10 toes are pointing forward, rather than heels in and toes out. Walk your right foot into the center, and inhale to draw your left knee in towards your chest. Start by staying here. Press down deeply through your right foot to keep driving your hips skyward, and to avoid dumping and crunching into the low back. If this feels okay, extend your left leg towards straight. When you’ve had enough, make sure to try the second side.
Start in Wheel Pose. Now, walk the feet away from your hands until you’re in a long, straight-legged wheel. Try to press your heart through your shoulders, as you plug deeply into your hands. Take a full breath in here, and try to drive your hips further skyward. With the exhale, sit your bum down like you’re sitting in a chair while continuing to pull your heart through your shoulders, and staying strong through the thighs. Gaze forward, or for more- gaze between the hands, or towards your feet.
Start in Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand) first. To work into Scorpion Pose from Pincha, take an inhale at the top of your straight-line forearm stand to grow tall. As you exhale, in slow motion bend your knees to draw your toes towards your head. Inhale to scoop your chest through your shoulders and draw your chin away from your chest, opening the throat and creating an easier counter balance. Exhale to hug the toes closer to the crown of head, firing up the hamstrings.
A great prep for Hollowback is the king grip version of Urdhva Dhanyurasana (Bow Pose), as this opens into the armpits while calling on the strength of the core. For Hollowback, start in Pincha Mayurasana once more. Take an inhale into your straight line, and as you exhale start drawing your chin into your chest, as much as you sink your hips over your shoulders. You can keep the knees bent (as pictured), or keep the legs straight for more sensation.
For Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon), start in a standard single legged Pigeon Pose with your right leg forward. From here, take an inhale to lift up and out of the belly, hug the inner thighs so the groin lifts to hover off the mat. This will keep you stable, rather than falling to the right side. As you exhale, bend your left knee to draw the heel to hip without using your hands. Keep breathing.
Once the heel meets the hip, reach back with your left hand like you’re holding a platter (palm faces up). Reach your left hand around the top of the left foot for the inner left arch. Next, sling your left arm over your shoulder like you’re putting on a backpack- the elbow will point skyward. Now, you’ll reach your right arm up and back for your left forearm, or for your left foot. At the top, hug the elbows in toward one another, look up, and begin drawing your foot to head and head to foot.
There you have it, my friends. 6 advanced backbend yoga poses to keep your heart open, and your practice alive! Have so much fun. I can’t wait to hear how it goes.