Think of all the times you spend bending forward in a day. Whether you’re driving, eating at a table, typing at a computer, cleaning, or gardening, it is likely that you are spending a majority of your day in an unsupported forward bend. And for this reason, you need to practice backbends every day.
Too much forward bending, and as a result, poor posture, can lead to:
– back and neck pain
– restricted blood-flow to vital organs and glands (preventing them from working as they should)
– negative effects on self-esteem and mood
What most people fail to recognize is that our backs are meant to move in all directions – forward and back. Back-bending is actually a natural range of motion for the spine – take a look at children or monkeys, for instance. They have the ability to move their spine in more ways than you could imagine! Fluid and without restriction.
The posterior part of your spinal column is compressed as you bend backwards, which helps push the disks in your vertebrae away from the spinal nerves, and decompresses the front of the vertebrae. As a result, the damage from forwarding bending (over time) can be reversed.
Here are 10 convincing reasons to practice backbends every day of the week:
1. Improve your posture
If you work a job where you are sitting most of the time, it is likely that your posture is hunched (unless you are aware of your posture and correct it). People also hunch when they are looking at their cell phone – next time you go out, watch someone as they text or play on their phone. Their shoulders will often be hunched, and their neck protruded forward.
Backbends help counteract the damage of bad posture by bending the spine in a direction it isn’t used to. They help to realign our vertebrae while at the same time stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. They open the chest, lengthen the spine and strengthen the upper back, all of which make our posture more straight.
2. Open up the shoulders and chest
Backbends are great for helping open the shoulders and chest – an area where many of us hold tension. Most people have shoulders that are rolled in, and a head that is cranked forward (“turtle” neck effect) – this makes our breathing shallow and lungs compressed, making us feel less than optimal. Practicing daily backbends will crack open this area, and subconsciously encourage us to keep our shoulders rolled back.
3. Stretch the hip flexors
The hip flexors are the muscles that allow us to lift our knees and bend at the waist. They’re found deep in the abdominal cavity, and cause pain for many individuals (especially if you are a runner, or bicyclist). The pain is often felt in the upper groin region where the thigh meets the pelvis.
Backbends are great hip flexor openers, as they extend the hips and give these muscles a chance to stretch. Be careful, however, as tight hip flexors can make backbends a little difficult, and may require other hip-opening exercises beforehand to get the really deep hip stretch that backbends will give.
4. Keep your brain and heart healthy
B.K.S. Iyengar recommended backbending as a cure for depression, and suggested using backbends as a holistic alternative for heart patients. When you do a backbend, you stretch the heart you not only relieve tension stored in the muscles but you allow the body to send off natural pain-killers too. Chronic back pain, which can be restored through backbends, has also been linked to the lowering of grey matter in the brain. Save your brain and do a daily backbend!
5. Strengthen your back
You can easily gain spinal strength with the help of backbends. I’ve been practicing for almost two years and I’ve noticed a huge difference in how much stronger my back is. Backbends require lifting the body against the force of gravity, which helps build strength. Low cobra pose, snake pose, warrior I pose, half locust pose and bridge pose are all great backbends and fool-proof spine-strengtheners.
6. Alleviate back pain
As I’ve already stated in this article, backbends are great for helping alleviate back pain. Whenever someone tells me that their back hurts, I immediately tell them to start practicing backbends. Our back is often in a state of chronic pain because we spend so much time bending forward, and not backward. When we start practicing backbends, we counteract the impact of continuous forward bending, and ease stress on parts of the spine that are often stuck in the chronic forward-position. This will also help you stand straighter, which again, is another reason so many people experience back pain.
7. Stimulate the heart chakra
Backbending opens up the chest (heart space), which is connected to our sense of wellbeing and connection with others. Many people often get very emotional when they do a deep backbend (like camel, king pigeon or upward facing two-foot staff pose). Whether you’re flexible or not, when first learning how to bend your back, you may experience a tsunami of different emotions.
Kino MacGregor, an international yoga teacher and founder of Miami Yoga Magazine, states that, “one of the deepest lessons in the yoga practice is about bringing the energy up the spine and cleansing the nervous system. Backbends thrust your full life force up through this central channel and burn through blockages along the way. When one of these blockages gets triggered it really does not matter whether you are doing a deep backbend or a beginner backbend, because the emotional state that gets triggered is really of paramount importance.”
Don’t run away when things get tough and emotional – backbends are an amazing thing you can do for your body, and will make you a stronger individual both mentally and physically. Remember to breathe through it!
8. Breathe better
As mentioned above, backbends help open the shoulders and chest, getting rid of tension that cramps our lungs and makes breathing shallow and un-easy. Once our chest starts to open, there is more space created for our lungs, allowing for deeper breathing and thus more oxygen flow through the body (this translates to better mental and cardiovascular function).
9. Gain energy
Backbending is a great way to give yourself a boost of energy. If you’ve ever done a backbend, then you’ve felt that rush of energy that invigorates the whole body. Your breath feels deeper and your sense of awareness sharpens. Backbending helps stimulate all chakras in the body, and clears energetic blocks that make way for a huge boost of energy – not only that, but they increase our breathing ability, and breathing is key to truly embrace the life force that makes us feel alive.
10. Break through your fears
Many people are fearful of backbends, especially deep ones like full camel and kroukachasana that make us move outside of our comfort zone. However, once you step out of that zone, you’ll really start to notice change. Facing our fears and coming face-to-face against our physical edge teaches us to develop patience – especially with backbending when we are forced to form a deep trust with ourselves. Once we achieve that, we can apply it not only to our yoga practice, but use it as a tool to form a sense of daily intuition.