No better time than Thanks Giving to practice back bends. The practice of back bending is very powerful and can lead to more than a beautiful arc in the spine.
When back bends are practiced appropriately we begin our movement with the breath. As we inhale we find greater length in the spine and as we exhale we dive deeper into the pose, beginning the opening with the chest and upper body. This is why so often they are referred to as heart openers. As we go deeper into the pose, we keep the sensation of lengthening and expanding while inhaling and softening and deepening while exhaling. This allows the chest to expand fully and not collapse into the lower back, thus creating more space around the heart and lungs, allowing circulation to flow more freely in that area.
Backbends open the Anahata (heart) chakra, allowing us to experience openness with emotions and relationships. With an open heart, a sense of a wide and vast chest and great lungs we can live life fuller, with less fear and more love and compassion.
Back bends are stimulating and mostly invigorating. They help build energy and strength, especially in the wrists, arms, legs, buttocks and spine while stretching the chest, shoulders, abdomen, hips, and thighs. They relieve stress and fatigue, stimulate the abdominal organs and awaken the Kundalini, increasing the flow of our life force. The nervous system is stimulated, creating heat and increasing metabolism. It helps open the lymph nodes by stretching areas where they are located (chest, armpits and groins). There are three types of backbends:
- Traction –When the Asana moves with gravity. Muscles in the front of the body keep the body from falling. (Ustrasana or drop backs)
- Leverage – using active strength of arm, legs or a prop (wall) to leverage the asana and stretch the front of the body. (Dhanurasana)
- Contraction – Back muscles (spinal erector muscles) contract to overcome gravity. (Salabasana)
It is helpful to learn to practice these with a good teacher. As to learn how to warm up correctly and what needs to be stretched before we practice different backbends. Some preparation may include shoulder openers, hip openers or even stretching of the quads. Practicing softer backbends, before the deeper ones, a balance of work on those that require wrist strength (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and those that help build it without straining. (Dhanurasana).
When doing traction backbends it is important to keep the hips forward as much as possible. When coming out of traction poses the head is last one to come up. Just as important is what follows the back bends. Better not to rush into forward bends, but practice some twists and hip openers first. Starting with gentle ones before going deeper into a full Paschimotanasana.
Many more details can be written about alignment and sequencing of backbends. I look to emphasize the heart opening of back bends here, the great possibility they offer to be able to receive fully and give fully.
Namaste and Happy Giving.