Open Your Body and Heart With Backbends
February 3, 2020
There is a strong connection between the body and the mind. Yoga is about finding balance, flexibility, and strength – not just physically, but mentally, too. Backbends, specifically, tap into this connection. This is one reason they can be intimidating, even to experienced practitioners – there’s an immense amount of vulnerability involved in opening up across the physical heart space. Backbends offer great benefits, whether you are ready to go into deeper variations or are beginning your journey into heart opening. A mindful backbending practice:
- Strengthens the spine and brings it greater flexibility
- Encourages deeper breathing
- Opens the physical heart space, potentially helping the practitioner open the mind as well
- Stretches the abdominals and internal organs, which spend a good amount of time in compression during the physical practice
There are many backbends in the yoga asana practice, which you’ll encounter in the different classes we offer at Uptown Yoga. Here are a few common backbends you might experience, and tips for modifying or going deeper:
New yogis often experience bridge pose as one of the first backbends in their yoga practice. Bridge begins laying on the back with arms at rest by the sides of the body, knees bent, and feet hip width apart. The pelvis lifts up on an inhale, the spine rolls gently off the mat, and the practitioner holds and breathes.
- To modify, you can support yourself with a block underneath your sacrum, set to a height that allows your low back to settle without straining or collapsing down.
- To deepen, tuck your shoulders under your upper back and interlace your fingers, pressing your fist and arms into your mat to create more length along the frontline of your body.
Camel is a backbend done while kneeling with legs hip width apart. Hands come to the low back for support with the elbows drawn straight back. The pelvis presses gently forward and the abdominal muscles engage as the upper spine curves up and back.
- To feel proper alignment when learning camel pose, you can practice with the fronts of your thighs pressed against a wall. This will ensure your thighs stay perpendicular to the floor and your pelvis forward, preventing you from compressing the low back.
- To deepen, the hands can release down to grab hold of your heels.
Cobra begins lying prone on your mat, hands under the shoulders and elbows drawn back with the pelvis and tops of feet rooted to the floor. On an inhale breath, press into the hands and straighten the arms to elevate the chest.
- A modification for cobra is low or “baby” cobra, where little to no weight is bared by the hands so that the chest only rises slightly, creating a milder curvature of the spine.
- Advanced practitioners with more experience backbending and a properly opened frontline of the body can move toward king cobra, where the arms straighten completely, the crown of the head drops back, and both knees bend so that the toes can move toward the skull.
A backbending practice is a powerful way to open up across the front of the body and tap into the connection between the physical heart space and the internal heart space. The safest way to work through a backbend journey is under the guidance of a trained instructor. At Uptown Yoga, we offer a wide variety of classes where you’ll learn how to safely open up your body and heart in a way that honors where you are in your yoga journey. Check out our schedule – we’re here to support and teach you at any stage of your practice, from beginner to advanced.