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How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

What do you think of when you hear the word yoga? Chances are, you picture some chick doing wild pretzely poses with seemingly no effort, all while wearing the perfect outfit. 

I get it. That’s how yoga has been sold to us in the West. And as someone who’s an online yoga teacher and influencer, I’m certainly guilty of perpetuating that image. 

The truth is, yoga is actually a profound practice, because it’s one that helps to support our physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s holistic in that it’s not only about exercising our physical bodies, but also about cultivating more mindfulness, as well.

Even still, it’s usually the asana (yoga poses) that draw us in, isn’t it? And that’s okay!

Backbend yoga poses are no exception. They’re usually these big bendy wonderful shapes that look like they feel amazing, but also seem slightly terrifying to try, 

In fact, most people think: That pose would hurt so bad if I tried it.

While backbends can look intimidating, they don’t have to be. And while these poses have got a bad rap for causing low back pain, they really shouldn’t. 

It’s all about proper instruction and engagement to ensure that you’re pain-free in your backbends. And that’s why I’m here! 

Today’s post is a step by step guide on how to achieve backbends without pain, because these poses are intended to build strength, flexibility, focus, balance, and vulnerability…not to cause pain in the body.

Learn how to do a backbend from standing HERE.

Learn more about advanced backbend yoga poses HERE.

Deepen your backbend practice with me in my Heart Medicine series.

How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

In traditional yoga class sequencing, you’ll usually see big backbends come at the end of the class. Why? Because you really need the entire class to prepare the body for these poses. 

Backbends are truly a full body experience, and the entire body needs to be warmed up before trying them on. Jumping straight into a deep backbend like Wheel Pose or Camel Pose will likely result in injury. 

Make sure to do a spinal warm up before like Cat Cow. Also make sure to open the shoulders with something like Thread the Needle. 

Learn more about your backbend practice with my Heart Medicine program.

What Is A Yoga Backbend

Yoga backbends can look all kinds of ways. They can be seated, standing, kneeling, or even on the belly! 

Backbends are postures that open the frontline of the body and strengthen the backline of the body. 

This means that you’re building flexibility in your quadriceps, hip flexors, chest and shoulders. While increasing strength in your glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and muscles around the spine.

What Are The Benefits Of A Yoga Backbend

  • Opens the chest and shoulders.
  • Strengthens hamstrings and glutes.
  • Increasing flexibility in hip flexor and quadriceps. 
  • Lengthens the spine.
  • Improves spinal strength. 
  • Build balance, focus, and stability. 
  • Opens and tonifies the core. 
  • Evokes vulnerability, trust, and forgives. 
  • Emits love, kindness, and joy.
How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

Yoga backbends come with a plethora of benefits for the physical body, the mind, and the heart. 

Backbends are heart opening postures…they open the frontline of the body, remember? That means you’re opening the shoulders and chest, which is where the Heart Chakra is. 

The Heart Chakra is known as the seat of utmost love, compassion, joy and forgiveness. So, when we work on opening this area, we are tapping into all of these emotions. 

Additionally, the physical body is doing work in yoga backbends. Your whole body will be building strength and flexibility in these postures. 

Learn more bout how to unblock the heart chakra HERE.

How To Know If You’re Doing A Yoga Backbend Correctly

  • Feeling expansive. 
  • Deep release. 
  • Increased flexibility.
  • Improved strength and stability. 
  • Emotional release. 
  • Feeling of challenge and pleasure.
  • No pain. 

Backbends can be challenging, but challenge isn’t the same as pain. That’s important, so I’ll say it again: challenge is not the same as pain. 

You might feel incredibly challenged when you try on yoga backbends in your practice, but you’ll still feel a sense of expansion and release if you’re doing them correctly. 

If you haven’t been taught yoga backbends correctly then you’ll likely feel pain, crunching in the low pack, and overstretching of the chest and shoulders. 

Dive deeper into your backbend practice with me in my Heart Medicine program.

Step 1: Press Into Your Foundation

Like all yoga poses, you want to start from the ground first with backbends. Before focusing on opening the upper body, start by stabilizing that which is grounded.

Remember how I said backbends can take place from a variety of positions? Well, that means our foundation will constantly be changing. 

If you’re in Camel Pose, for instance, then you want to press deeply into your feet and knees while hugging your inner thighs. 

While if you’re in Bow Pose, for example, you’ll be driving weight into your pubic bone and belly to lift higher. 

Needless to say, press hard into whatever is on the ground. This will help you to turn on your core, which we’ll talk about in just a moment. 

Check out this backbend yoga pose guide for more.

Step 2: Activate Your Legs

Now, regardless of the position you’re in, you’ll want to make sure your legs are lit up. I mean, truly, the legs are doing a lot of work in backbends. Always. 

While squeezing the glutes is a controversial concept in the yoga world in relation to backbends, it’s something I stand firmly behind. Squeezing the glutes helps to protect your low back, and offer more stabilization.

If you’re in a pose where squeezing your glutes isn’t possible, like Cow Pose, you’ll still activate your legs by purposely spiraling your inner thighs out and back behind you to spread your sits bones further apart. 

How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

Step 3: Engage Your Core

One of the reasons I want you to press deeply into your foundation and to activate your legs is that both of these actions help to engage your core. 

Backbends are opening the frontline of the body, which means your belly is actually opening and lengthening. It can be pretty tough to maintain core activation when you’re open, rather than compressed in (like a sit up).

Maintaining strength in your foundation and legs will help to assist that tricky core activation as the belly spreads open, helping your inner core to lift in and up for uddiyana bhanda.

Step 4: Lengthen Your Spine

A common mistake people make when trying yoga backbends is rushing through each step, and immediately dumping into the low back. This is usually what causes pain. 

Rather than rushing, try to slow down and use your breath. The inhales remind length through the spine, while the exhales help you to open and bend. 

Take Cobra Pose, for example. You can maintain length in the spine by continuing to lift from the chest and much as you extend the tailbone behind you, and gently ground into your public bone.

Step 5: Neutralize Your Gaze

Backbends are big postures…we know that already, right? Well, because of this, I see people want to get a little more *dramatic* with the expression of their shape. 

Oftentimes that comes with throwing the head and neck back to make the backbend look even more grandiose. 

There’s nothing wrong with opening the cervical spine (the uppermost part of the spine where the neck and throat are), but it’s important that you only do so if it doesn’t cause pain. 

Start by keeping your gaze totally neutral so that the back of your neck is long. If that feels okay, then you can start to lift your gaze slowly, slowly.  

Step 6: Soften Your Face And Jaw

Due to the intensity of backbends, people tend to want to maintain some semblance of control by clenching up in areas that aren’t actually helping to support the pose. 

It’s super common for students to clench their jaw, or scrunch up their eyebrows when they’re trying to achieve any pose…but especially backbends. 

Practice mindfulness with your asana to notice when you’re clenching your jaw, or scrunching your face, and actively unwind those areas. Try to fan out your temples nice as wide, as you release your back teeth from one another. 

Clenching the jaw can lead to neck pain and tension. 

Step 7: Make Sure You Can Breathe

Let’s return to that image of the person who threw their head back for a deeper backend for a moment, shall we? Usually you can also see the veins bulging in their neck, their eyebrows lifted up to their hairline, and their jaw squeezing tightly. 

All of which is telling me one thing…they’re probably not breathing. 

Like any posture, if you’re comprising your breath to achieve the pose, then you’ve gone too far. The breath comes first. Always. No matter what. 

Plus, yoga poses feel a heck of a lot better when you’re actually breathing while you’re in them. Promise. 

How To Do Yoga Backbends Without Pain

Let me know which tip has helped you to achieve pain-free backbends in your yoga practice in the comments below. 

And don’t forget to dive deeper into your backbend practice with me in my Heart Medicine series!

xx, 

K

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