Tips for Doing Backward Bends in Yoga
Yoga can help with the strains of daily life. Daily life entails a lot of forward bending: putting on a pair of pants, tying shoelaces, picking things up from the floor, working at your computer, gardening, playing sports, and so on.
A forward bend closes the front of the torso, shortens the front of the spine, and rounds the back. This closing and rounding is exaggerated by the unhealthy habit of bending forward from the waist instead of from the hip joints. Bending forward in the wrong way day in and day out can lead to spinal problems.
To experience the difference between bending from the hips and bending from the waist, sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, and place your hands on the outside of your hip bones, with your fingers turned inward. As you inhale, move your spine upward, lift your chest, and look straight ahead.
As you exhale, keep your chest lifted and bend forward: You’re bending forward from the hips. Now sit in the chair and move your hands up a few inches until they’re just under your rib cage. As you exhale, bring your chin to your chest and your head down toward your thighs, bowing your spine. This bend is from the waist.
Over the years, this waist-bending habit leads to what is often called a stoop, characterized by a sunken chest, a forward-leaning head, aches and pains, and shallow breathing.
The antidote for the cumulative effects of forward bending is the regular practice of Yoga back bends, which stretch the front of the torso (and spine). Take a deep inhalation right now and notice how your torso (and spine) naturally extends during this active, opening phase of the breathing cycle, inviting you to bend backward.
Back bends are expansive, extroverted postures that can trigger powerful emotions. The major back bends usually come toward the middle of a Yoga routine so that you have plenty of time to prepare for these movements and to compensate afterward.
To make these cobra and locust postures easier, place a small pillow or a folded blanket underneath you between your abdomen and your chest. You can move the blanket a little forward or backward to suit your needs.
When you lie face down on the floor, raise your chest and head, and use your arms in some fashion, you’re doing some form of the cobra posture. When you raise just your legs, or a combination of your legs, chest, and arms, you’re performing some form of the locust posture.
Move slowly and cautiously in all the cobra and locust postures. Avoid any of the postures that cause pain in your lower back, upper back, or neck.