Backbends are hard. If you don’t do yoga, it probably hurts just to watch someone else doing one. And if you DO do yoga, you’ve probably noticed that around that time of class that the teacher makes you get down on your belly and grab your feet in preparation for bow pose, you suppress a groan and think:
The sooner I do it, the sooner I’ll get it over with.
Or, you could be one of those other mortals who simply love them. Either way, there’s no gray zone with bending over backwards; they’re charged with emotion and energy.
But here’s the good news: you don’t need to be a contortionist or do only advanced back bends to reap all their benefits. Even more forgiving ones such as cobra or dolphin have a world of physical and mental goodness to give away. (Scroll to the end of this post to see a list of backbends you can do, depending on where you are in your practice).
In the meantime here are some of the benefits of backbends:
1. Improved heart function and disease prevention:
We spend so much time hunched in front of our computers or over our phones that leaning forwards has become the new norm. This hunching is more harmful to our health that we realize; in the short term, it causes conditions such as jaw, back, shoulder, neck pain and headaches.
Over the long term, bad posture can lead to serious health conditions such as reduced lung function, which deprive essential tissues of oxygen and in turn lead to heart disease. Over time, backbends realign the spine and open up the chest, increasing the heart’s efficency in pumping blood to the rest of the body.
2. Natural mood and energy boosters:
Backbends stimulate the energy centers of the body, as well as the nervous system. More than any other type of poses, they open up the heart, our center for storing emotions. Combined with breath, back-bending movements improve oxygenation and blood circulation, which help you feel energized. They are increasingly recommended for alleviating depression.
3. Stimulated digestive and immune systems:
Backbends stimulate the abdominal organs and speed up the digestive system, which in turn boosts metabolism. They relieve tension stored in various muscles, which help your body fire off natural pain-killers, which explains why they’re great for preventing and diminishing menstrual irregularities and constipation.
So, get bending! Take care to warm up the spine and not to push too hard when starting out, in order to prevent spinal injury.
Illustrated below is a progression of backbends, ranging from easy to more challenging.