Anyone who’s taken my classes regularly knows that I’m a big backbend girlie. And look, I get that that sounds intimidating to a lot of people- because backbends have somehow been painted as some big, bad, scary pose that’s impossible.
But that’s just not true.
The truth is that backbens come in all different shapes, sizes, and intensity levels. And when they’re done correctly, they actually feel amazing….not crunchy and bad.
The best thing about incorporating more backbends into your practice is that you can counter all of the sitting that you’re inevitably doing by working all day or commuting to your job. Backbends open up the frontline of your body, while strengthening the backline of your body in a way that lengthens and supports the spine.
I’d be lying if I said backbends aren’t intense. Because they are. However, intensity is different than pain, the same way that challenge is different than injury.
These postures evoke a strong physical and emotional response. Because you truly need to warm up and engage the entire body before you try on intermediate and advanced backbends. There’s a reason that the big backbends traditionally come at the end of a full hour-long yoga class!
The good news is that there’s all levels of backbends to choose from, which means there’s also plenty of backbends you can do to warm up, wake up, or wind down (like Cat Cow). Check out a variety of backbend yoga poses HERE.
How To Do A Backbend
The strength, flexibility, and mobility that comes from a consistent backbending practice is truly invaluable. Which is why today I’m sharing a guide on how to do backbend yoga poses, so that you can start your heart opening journey now.
Learn more about opening the heart chakra HERE.
Practice your backbends with me in my Heart Medicine series.
Remember how I said backbends sort of have a bad rap? Well, that’s because most people aren’t taught how to do them with proper activation and support. Which results in creating shapes that get really crunchy and painful in the low back.
This guide will walk you through the entire body in backbend poses, to ensure that you’re avoiding injury so that backbends feel as good as possible in your body.
That doesn’t mean these poses might not also be intense…because they probably will be! But don’t forget that intensity and pain are different. If you feel pain, always make sure to back off. And if you feel intensity, try to sit in it and breathe.
If you get the backbend bug after reading this post, make sure to join my backbend yoga series, where you’ll get classes, meditation, and backbend coaching from me for only $19.99.
Start From The Ground Up
Like any yoga pose, it’s important to start from the ground up with backbends. The tendency is to want to bend your spine in half right away. But it’s vital to lock into your foundation first and foremost.
This means, in your warm up period, take time to wake up and activate the feet and legs especially. Because they’ll be doing a ton of work as you learn to backbend properly.
Activate Your Toes
Assuming that you’re doing a backbend position with your feet on the ground (like a Standing Backbend), you’ll want to make sure that you’re really taking advantage of your feet pressing into the ground.
The more you press your feet into the ground, the more you’ll be able to find activation in your legs and core as you start to open your chest. Remember, the body works together as a whole, so make sure you establish a strong foundation in your feet.
Turn On Your Thighs
Regardless of the backbend shape you’re in, you’ll want to make sure that your thighs are super charged and active. This is key in avoiding the dumping and crunching feeling in the low back.
Also, keeping your thighs engaged helps you locate core activation, as well. Both of which are important in maintaining length in the spine, as opposed to collapsing.
Engage Your Glutes
There are many teachers who say that glutes should be soft in backbends, and I’m not one of those teachers. I feel so much more supported with my glutes engaged, and my students do, too.
This simply means you’ll want to squeeze your buns as tightly as possible on your backside, while maintaining a neutral spine. Sometimes the tendency is to tuck the pelvis in while squeezing the glutes (like Cat Pose kind of pelvis tilt), but I want you to keep a long spine, instead.
Use Your Bandhas
It’s hard to maintain core activation while you’re opening the frontline of the body. This is why it’s helpful to turn on the low belly before you start opening up into the backbend, rather than trying to activate your bandhas while you’re already in the backbend.
It helps access the bandha activation by turning on the feet and legs, or whatever your activation is. Then you’ll want to imagine your drawing your naval in and up to get to the deep, low part of the belly.
Lift Out Of Pelvic Bowl
It’s really common for students to dump into the pelvic bowl as they start to open up the frontline of the body. Rather than collapsing into your center point, try to lift up and out of your pelvic bowl by lengthening the space from your bottom rib to the top of your hip bone.
This will help to create space, and to help avoid collapsing into the low back, which can cause pain or injury.
Extend The Chest Skyward
I like to use the breath to teach backbends, by calling on the inhales to lift the sternum (that bony cylinder at the center of the chest) as high as possible. And then using the exhales to maintain engagement in the lower half of the body as the upper half starts to open up.
Keeping the chest lifted skyward will continually lengthen the spine, and also help to fight the urge to collapse into the pelvic bowl.
Maintain A Long Spine
All yoga poses are about maintaining a long spine, and backbends are no different even though the spine is bending.
Maintaining extension in the spine as you backbend is vital to reduce chances of pain or injury, and can be done by pressing into your foundation to lift up and out of your center as you continually lift the chest.
Use Your Gaze
Where we look impacts the spine, because our eyes are on our face, and our face is on our head, and our head is attached to our neck, which is the cervical spine. Whew.
So, if you’re feeling tension in your neck, then you can easily avoid this by keeping your gaze neutral as opposed to high. Think about this in Camel Pose, if it hurts your neck, then tuck your chin in and look straight up, instead of back.
Soften Your Face
Backbends are intense, we’ve covered that already. And oftentimes in the face of intensity, our jaw clenches or our eyebrows shoot up.
Do your best to unwind your jaw, lower your brows, and even fan out your temples while you’re in a backbend. This will help the breath to flow with more ease, and breath is what gets us through the intensity.
Make Sure You’re Breathing
As always, you want to make sure you can breathe wherever you land in your backbend yoga pose. This means that if you’re in a super deep variation, but you’re holding your breath…then you’ve gone too far.
Releasing tension from the neck with a neutral gaze and keeping the face soft while you backbend are two really helpful tips to make sure you’re breathing. Don’t forget to lean into your breath as you open your heart, because the breath will carry you through.
Let me know which tip has helped you find more ease in your backbends in the comments below!