“If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury
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.
- 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.
- Stimulates all the chackras, primarily creating opening in the fourth (heart) chackra.
- 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