Backbends are essential to a well rounded yoga practice. Basically, a backend is when the spine comes into extension and the back part of each vertebrae gets closer to one another. This movement can be difficult for many people because it’s rarely part of our day-to-day living. It can also bring up fear due to the way the adrenals get compressed, and the fact that we can’t see where we are going when leaning back.
These positions can also bring about deep release and strong feelings. The major energy centers and glands are along the spine, and express themselves on the front side of the body. When people do back bends the pressure in these systems are released, and the body can be flooded with energy. Knowing the delicate structure of our spine, here are 4 must dos to avoid injuries when practicing backbends.
When we do backbends we often think we are compressing ourselves or bending into a ball somehow. Veteran yogis find it helpful to think of backbends like a forward fold. This might seem silly or even backwards! But in actuality it can be quite helpful.
The point is when we fold forward we tend to stretch and elongate the spine. This motion is also crucial in back bending. Visualizing the spine like a spring can be helpful here. Whether you go back or forward, you want to use the small muscles around the spine to open up more space in between the bones. This will allow more space to bend deeper!
If you keep the bones close together it will create undue compression in the joints. Over time this will stress the joints and cause strain in the muscles. Some hyper-flexible yogis will be able to do poses this way initially while opening certain spinal areas and ignoring others, but these same poses will cause strain later on if done without extending the spine!
Many people do back bends but only bend certain sections of their spine. Most often the lumbar and cervical vertebrae get deeply bent, while the thoracic spine gets ignored. The thoracic spine is the hardest part of the spine to open. It is designed to be less mobile than the other parts of the spine, and has the rib cage jutting out from it.
The rib cage is designed to protect the vital organs, i.e. the lungs and heart. The heart is considered the most protected organ physically and energetically. This energetic protection is what creates the rib cage itself. Opening the ribs and the thoracic spine can take time and effort. When working on this area, imagine that your chest gets puffy like that of a pigeon, and round like a barrel. Intending to open the chest area and bringing your mind there is a huge step.
Push hard when you do a backbend. Relax the front of your body and allow your muscles to keep the shape of the pose. Push whatever part of your body that is in pointed towards the ceiling above. This will help open the whole front line of the body.
Backbends like many yoga poses can be very intense and even painful. It is important to be able to feel the difference between an injury occurring sensation, and the sensation of stretching. Once you can correctly identify the difference, then you can push through intense sensation without fear of injury.
It is important to use whatever leverage is available. When you are laying on your front, pulling on the legs will help. If you are on your legs or knees, push into the floor strongly.
While in a backbend it is important to keep your breath steady, so you can allow yourself to go deeper. The main muscle for breathing is the diaphragm. When we take a deep breath in, the belly expands. If we are pushing into a back bend at the same time as we breathe this way it stretches the spine on the inside and outside simultaneously.
Make sure not to breathe in a constricted manner. Whatever rhythm our breath takes, our body will assume the same way of being. If you are doing the pose in such a manner that your breath becomes radically different, you probably need to back off slightly.
Backbending can be fun if done correctly. Keep at it, and you will slowly become a master!
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