Posture Clinic: Why back-bending is good for your spine.


“If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury

Ashley Hooper and Elisa Matthews back-bending photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

by Barbora Simek

Understanding why and how back-bending is beneficial for the spine is a challenge for many yoga students. For many, back-bending is an emotionally charged, challenging and often uncomfortable part of practice. However despite its discomforts back-bending can be one of the most therapeutic parts of a yoga practice.

Think of all the time you spend bending forward in a day, from enjoying a coffee with a newspaper, to driving, to typing at a computer, cleaning or lounging with a friend. The reality is, we spend most of our day in an unsupported forward bend.

Internally, forward bending causes the front of vertebrae move closer together, forcing the inter-vertebral disks and spinal nerves back. Prolonged poor posture can:

  • cause or aggravate back and neck pain
  • constrict blood-flow and put pressure on vital organs and glands preventing them from functioning properly
  • has been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem and mood in studies

Ironically, when most people experience back pain or discomfort their first reaction is to bend forward, not knowing it is the cause of their discomfort. In reality back-bending is what is needed to counter-act the impact of continuous forward bending. This impulse is not easy to unlearn.

First it is important to recognize that back-bending is a natural range of motion for the spine. “Think of monkeys or children climbing in a tree who reach backward for a branch, the spine bends backward,” says Jeff Weisman a Toronto based Bikram Yoga teacher and Hellerworker.

As you bend backwards you compress the posterior part of your spinal column, pushing your disks away from the spinal nerves and decompress the front of the vertebrae. This effectively counteracts the damage of hours spent forward bending.

Those concerned and intimidated by back-bending should rest assured that the controlled environment and proper progression of the Bikram Yoga series allows for back-bends to be preformed safely. For those with limitations and injuries, remember to speak to your instructor, move slowly and listen to your body.

Physical Benefits

  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares the body for action.
  • Helps counteract damage of bad posture.
  • Relieves back pain, bronchial distress, scoliotic deformities, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder.
  • Realigns the spine.
  • Promotes proper kidney function.
  • Helps with digestive function, eliminating constipation and flatulence.

Energetic Benefits

  • Stimulates all the chackras, primarily creating opening in the fourth (heart) chackra.

Emotional Benefits

  • Helps to break through insecurity and fear.
  • Relieves stress and tedium.
  • Opening the lower back helps to free you from insecurity and taking yourself too seriously.
  • Helps to build confidence and self-esteem in children.

Tips from the Pros

Allow your exhale to lower you into your maximum depth, allow your inhale to lift you up and forward. Reverse this pattern on purpose by pulling backward more vigorously into the posture during the inhalation (taking you more fulling into the posture) and then relaxing and easing off the posture during the exhale (thereby reducing tension).- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Dr. H. David Coulter

“Lift your breastbone up as you go down into it, instead of jamming only the lower waistband spine.
You HAVE to have your elbows pressing IN, not bowing out before you go down.

Also, LIFT the front of the neck and shoulders and armpits before you drop down.

Then you lift UP, OUT and OVER your waistband spine so you do not get that crimping feeling.” – Mary Jarvis for All Back-bending Heals the Spine

Do not contract the gluteal muscles until you reach your maximum expression then tighten – Rajishree Choudhury (for more read this article)

The standing back-bend is regulated by locked knees – Craig Villani

Drop the head back as far as it goes. The head and arms do not need to stay together. – Bikram Choudhury

Tips for teachers

Beginners are always afraid of back-bending. Make sure to stress that the hips, stomach, legs everything must come forward. – Bikram Choudhury

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14 Comments

Filed under Benefits, Posture Clinic, Posture Tips, Tips and Tricks

14 responses to “Posture Clinic: Why back-bending is good for your spine.

  1. Love this article! Backbending is one of my favorite parts of Bikram. Camel was the first posture I fell in love with as a beginner. I like to think of a fountain of water going up and over when I’m in camel….

  2. I’m on day 118 of doing 10 backbends a day in 2010 and it having a regular backbend practice has completely changed my life. Thanks for this awesome post.

  3. claudia

    i love your posture clinics – it`s so refreshing. thanks OMB!
    I remember, Bikram recommends 80/20 breathing? … and easy going if you have high blood pressure, go back, but don`t stay in the posture too long.

  4. Jjanet Barnes

    Backbends have saved my life and my spine. Without them I would be in chronic pain.

  5. Pingback: Back Bending and how to improve it | hotyogatoronto

  6. Backward Bending is Physical Immortality…..The more you do,the more you “De-Age”.
    It is the Archetype for Living in The Present Moment….(no regret of the past,no fear of the future).
    You cannot be anywhere else in a back bend except, IN the Back Bend!
    That is why people change so quickly practicing Bikram Yoga. There are so many Mini Back Bends that are practiced in the 90 minute class.

  7. evenhoward

    this is a fantastic article with a focus on what the tailbone and pelvic floor ‘should’ be doing in deep backbends.
    http://www.himalayaninstitute.org/yi/Article.aspx?id=3490 <3

  8. Pingback: 7 Important Aspects of Back Bending Postures - Yoga, Yoga guide, Yoga poses, and Yoga at home

  9. Pingback: Getting my heat fix | Laughing, Living and Loving in London

  10. “If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury
    Si vous avez un bon dos, les dieux seront à vos côtés. Les problèmes psychologiques et émotionnels n’affectent pas tout le monde, par contre les problèmes de dos touchent tout le monde.

  11. I learned how good back-bending is for me at Bikram Yoga Annapolis/Severna Park. I have never looked back.

  12. Fiona

    Backbending has changed my practise, teaching and life. Great article.

  13. Keep your spine healthy!!

  14. Sally

    Love this article, iv been practising on and off for almost 2 years and when I first started I was scared of the backward bending postures. Now I look forward to them in class especially camel!!

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