Our fast-paced way of life continually encourages us to hunch forward, move forward, look forward, think forward.
It's hard to slow down when we are surrounded by over-stimulating technology that demands instant replies to messages and has all the answers with the touch of a button. How can we think about the present, when we are already thinking about the future?
We bring this onto the yoga mat all the time.
Think about your position when you sit at a desk, drive a car, or wash the dishes at the sink. More likely than not, you are folding forward, perhaps with minimal abdominal engagement to support posture alignment. This creates tension in the neck and shoulders, while tightness in the hip flexors and quadriceps, and weakness in the hamstrings and glutes, otherwise known as 'Dead Butt' Syndrome.
I love backbends for the simple fact that they reverse all the forward folding we subconsciously do everyday. Have you ever moved into a Bridge Pose and felt a wave of invigorating openness wash over the entire front of the body? The quads and hip flexors get a juicy stretch like smoothing out a scrunched up piece of paper. The shoulders and chest open, and we build strength and power in the legs, arms and back muscles. No more "dead butt".
As mentioned earlier, if we don't use our muscles, they can become weak. Forward folding stretches our back muscles, but when do they ever get the opportunity to strengthen? Backbends like Cobra, Sphinx, Locust, Bridge, Wheel and Camel, allow us to strengthen our back muscles to help protect the spine, and again, give us the proper posture support we need.
Speaking of counterposes, one of my favourite transitions at the moment is Dolphin Plank to Sphinx Pose. Holding Dolphin strengthens the abdominal muscles, critical for seated posture alignment, followed by Sphinx which means gently bringing the hips to the earth with control, untucking the toes, and opening the chest, shoulders down away from the ears, tucking the tailbone slightly to maintain core activation to support the lower back, while giving the core a deep release and stimulating the back muscles at the same time.
To summarise, here are my top five benefits of backbends:
Lower stress and anxiety
Improve posture + spine flexibility and mobility
Stretch out abdominal muscles
Increase oxygen levels + open the body to diaphragmatic breathing
Help alleviate back + neck pain
Most backbends get stuck in the lower back, the lumbar spine. This part of our spine has a natural backbend curve. When we backbend in this region, it compresses the vertebrae and essentially weakens our spine – and can also result in that uncomfortable pinching sensation. When moving into backbends, always lift and lengthen through the spine and gently draw your tailbone towards your legs. Engage your inner thighs and transverse abdominals to avoid an extended anterior pelvic tilt.
My favourite transitional pose to a backbend, is a twist.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: 4 forward fold mistakes (and how to correct them) and 5 yoga moves with your chair.