Backbends are an integral part of a yoga asana practice and offer a wide range of physical and mental benefits.
Whether you’re an experienced yogi or just starting out, incorporating backbends into your practice has been shown to help improve posture, increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, boost energy, and relieve stress.
In this article, we will delve deeper into the numerous benefits of yoga backbends and provide tips and techniques for safely incorporating these poses into your practice.
Whether you’re looking to improve your physical health, reduce stress and anxiety, or simply add some variety to your yoga routine, backbends are a brilliant addition to help you develop your yoga asana practice.
Back bending yoga poses can be beneficial for the spine but do require some caution if you have any existing injuries.
Read on to learn about:
- The benefits of back bending yoga poses
- How to integrate backbends into your home practice
- 10 back bending yoga poses and instructions
- Resources to develop your backends and support the health of your spine
As part of a yoga practice, backbends can be highly beneficial for your health and body – most notably, to improve posture and spinal alignment. Backbends are the antidote for those of us who spend most of our day at a desk.
Flexibility is increased through the spine, chest and hips when practicing backbends, improving overall mobility. Backbends also build strength in the back muscles, hips and core. This can help to improve balance and stability.
The safe practice of backends can also help improve circulation to the spine. This increased blood flow may help to deliver nutrients to the spine and support the healing of minor injuries.
Backbends open the chest and have been shown to help improve cardiovascular and respiratory health. In other words, enhancing our breathing and lung function.
Practicing backends can also help to stretch and strengthen the diaphragm. The diaphragm muscle separates the abdomen from the thorax and is integral to our breathing function. It is common when new to backends in yoga, to have some difficulty in breathing when in posture.
This can be due to the diaphragm. As these postures are practiced over time it is likely that breathing capacity will increase in back-bending postures as the diaphragm strengthens and tones.
Boosted energy and relieved stress are often described by yoga practitioners. This may be due to the increase in blood flow and the opening of the chest/heart space.
Deep backbends will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which can feel energizing and clarifying for the mind.
How To Integrate Backbends Into Your Home Practice
Developing a home practice is a fundamental way to deepen your yoga practice. It is also an opportunity to put further focus on the areas of your practice you would like to improve.
It is important to be fully warmed up before practicing deep back-bends such as Full Bow, Bridge or Wheel pose. In class, these postures will usually be placed toward the end of a full practice. This same principle should be applied to a home practice.
Below you will find a list of back-bending poses and instructions to practice. Please note, this list of back-bending poses is not intended to be practiced in a sequence.
It is advised to practice back-bending poses gradually, with attention to alignment and alongside postures to neutralize the spine.
Poses that counteract the backbend, such as forward folding poses will create a balanced yoga practice. This will benefit your body, avoiding overextension and imbalance in strength and flexibility. An important factor in avoiding injury!
10 Back bending yoga Poses
If you are a complete beginner to yoga, practicing these postures with supervision from a yoga teacher is recommended.
1. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward Facing Dog
- Lying face-down on your mat, bend your elbows and press your palms into the mat underneath your shoulders.
- As you press the palms down allow the upper body to lift up. Raise the eyes up and lift the chin. If possible, allow the hips to lift so that they are hovering just above the mat.
*Upward facing dog can be practiced with the toes flexed, or with the top of the feet on the mat. This may depend on how the pose is used within a sequence.
2. Utthita Svanasana – Extended Dog Pose (Melting heart)
- Beginning in a tabletop position, walk the palms forward toward the top of your mat.
- Keeping the hips aligned over the heels, keep extending the arms forward and allow the chest to come down towards your mat.
- The chest may be able to reach the mat or you can use folded blankets or a bolster to rest your chest on.
3. Dhanurasana – Full Bow Pose
- Lying face-down on your mat, bend both knees. Reaching your arms back behind you, grip around the outsides of the feet.
- Allow the shoulders to open out, widen your chest and kick your legs back and up while keeping hold of the feet. Lift the chin and look up.
4. Dandayamana Dhanurasana – Standing Bow Pulling Pose
- Begin standing with your feet together. Bend the right knee pointing your toes behind you, with your right hand take hold of your right foot from the inside, holding it around or close to the ankle.
- Lift the left arm up, finger pointed up to the ceiling. Begin kicking the right leg back and up, this will pull the right shoulder back creating a twist in the upper body.
- Keep the standing leg straight as you slowly allow the body to come down with the right arm reaching forward.
- Repeat on the left side.
5. Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
- Begin lying face-down on your mat, place your palms underneath your shoulders keeping the elbows bent and close to your body.
- Peel the chest up, lifting the eyes and chin. Keep your hips pressed down into the mat and elbows squeezed in towards the body.
6. Sarpasana – Snake Pose
- A similar setup to Bhujangasana (cobra pose) – begin lying face-down on your mat and bring the chin forwards.
- Instead of placing the palms down, interlock your finger behind your back, allowing the shoulders to widen and pull back.
- Press your hips down into the mat as you lift the chest up and forward.
- To find further depth, you can also press the thighs and the tops of the feet down into the mat. Lift the chin and look up with the eyes.
7. Ustrasana – Camel Pose
- Start with the knees and tops of the feet on the mat, knees hip-width distance and big toes touching. Align your hips over your knees and place your palms on your lower back.
- Inhale and lip the chest up, let your head come back as you slowly bring your body back- keep the hips pressing forwards and the chest lifted up.
- You may hold it here, or reach the hands back one by one to hold onto the heels.
8. Matsyasana – Fish Pose
- Begin lying on your back, heels and toes touching and arms straight with palms facing the mat. Lift your hips and slide your palms underneath to touch, rest your hips back down.
- Press your elbows into the mat allowing your chest to lift up. Keep lifting the chest up as you bring your chin up and head back, then rest the crown of your head on the mat.
9. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose
- Lying on your back, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the mat about hip-width distance and as close to your body as possible.
- If you can reach, hold around the outsides of the ankles as you press the heels into the mat and allow the hips to lift up. Keep your head where it is as you also begin to lift the chest, this will cause a slight constriction to the throat.
- If you are not able to reach your hands to your ankles you can now interlock your fingers underneath you and press them into the mat to find further lift in the hips and chest.
10. Chakrasana – Wheel Pose
- A similar setup to Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) – begin lying with your back on the mat, bend the knees with the soles of your feet on the floor hip-width apart.
- This time, bring the palms up and press them into the mat next to your ears with the elbows pointing up. Press the heels down to lift the hips up and press the palms down to lift the shoulders and upper body off the floor.
- Allow your head to come back and lift the chest up towards the ceiling.
*To find further depth in Chakrasana you can walk the feet in towards the palms, or gently walk the palms towards the feet.
When you become familiar and comfortable in Chakrasana, you can experiment with lifting the heels, or pressing the heels into the mat. This will shift where you feel the stretch of the backend in your spine.
Enjoy the benefits of back-bending poses with the tips and instructions given above. If you would like to further your knowledge of yoga specifically for the spine there are plenty of brilliant books and resources available.
These books are a great place to start:
Your Spine, Your Yoga by Bernie Clark
Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli