Words: Alex Wenger - Image: Jenn Crebas Photography

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi

In practice we open our hearts by reaching up, tilting back, and looking up to the sky. Yoga, for many of us, begins as a practice focused on fitness. But as we deepen and explore, our practice evolves to bring light into dark spaces within us, breaking those unresolved barriers. We strive to let go of the tension we’ve built up and when we feel release... It can be an emotional ride.

“Back bends can create anxiety but it rids us of it at the same time. You have to go somewhere that scares you in order to have that sense of calm afterwards,” says Sherri Schroeder, Yoga instructor from Moksha Yoga Kildonan.  

Sherri’s favorite asanas are backbends, a very emotional and uneasy group of poses with many variations. Even the most flexible and strong yogis need time to become comfortable surrendering to the backbend. Designed to bring heat into the body, lengthen the spine, and open the heart, backbends open us to vulnerability and challenge us to trust ourselves.  

For the typical North American, we are hunched over our keyboards and always moving headfirst throughout our day. This forward-facing action takes a toll on our backs, pulling them forward and rounding out the curvature of the spine. Breaking that pattern by doing the opposite action in our bodies through a backbend may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. As we lift our chests up and walk our gaze backwards we’re slowly bringing the natural curve back into our backs.

Physical benefits of back bending: 

-Improves posture: realignment of the spine
-Relief of back pain/tennis elbow
-Stimulates the central nervous system
-Increases lung function
-Boosts the immune system
-Increases energy

Emotional benefits of back bending

-Combats depression
-Offers new perspective (by literally tuning your world upside down)
-Grows compassion

Remember to breathe, lift up, and have a strong foundation when doing a backbend to prevent any damage to the spine. Take your time and lengthen on an inhale and release into the backbend on an exhale.

Three fun backbends to awaken the spine, increase energy:

Baby Cobra: Bhujangasana (all levels)

      -Lying on your belly, stretch your legs back with the tops of our feet pressed into the earth.
-Plant your palm next to the ribcage with elbows up like grasshopper arms.
-Lift the head and chest off the earth into a mini backbend, without any force from the hands or below the waist

Bow pose: Dhanurasana (intermediate)
-Begin lying on your belly with our arms alongside you, palms facing up. 
-Rotate your shoulders back,  and we reach back to grab onto your ankles.
-Kick back the feet into the hands, rocking the weight onto your belly, slowly bringing our gaze up towards the sky.
-Keep the knees hip width a part, in this pose we’re lengthening the spine and feeling our torso and thighs lifting off the ground. 

Full Wheel: Urdhva Dhanurasana (advanced)

-To set up this pose, begin on your back with knees bent, soles of your feet resting on the mat hip distance apart. Your feet should be close enough to your bottom you can touch them with the tips of your fingers.

-Place your palms on the mat by your head with the elbows reaching up and fingertips pointing towards the shoulders. To begin, press into the feet and palms slowly bringing our hips up to the sky and rest the crown of your head on the mat. Press into the base of your hands and your feet to slowly straighten your arms and legs. Your shoulders are rotated back and your feet are parallel.

-Release this pose slowly by first tucking your chin into your chest 

A series of forward folds are a great way to counter a back bending practice.


Anonymous said…
The first paragraph could not be more true to my life.
Very good article!
Arnold Gavin said…
Are your thighs supposed to be off the ground? I had a yoga instructor before, she told me that my thighs should stay on the ground. Is it really the right position?
Anonymous said…
There are different variations of bow pose. As we progress in bow we press our thighs into the mat and find balance on them as we press into our hands and lift our whole belly off the mat.

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