Back bends are probably the most commonly thought of yoga postures when you think of yoga. Just about everyone will have seen an image of someone in the cobra or Bhujangasana pose.
Back bends expand the chest and open the heart space. Usually performed on inhalation the back bend is a stimulating practice that produces heat and energy. In contrast to forward bending (see previous post) they work against gravity and therefore require some strength especially in the lumbar spine.
With this in mind yoga students should always begin gradually with some of the less intense poses such as the flying locust (Ardha Shalabhasana), as this posture helps to develop the necessary strength in the back. You can then move on to Saral Bhujangasana (half cobra). Another excellent practice to prepare for the stronger back bends is Khanderasana (the shoulder pose). As always it is important to work within the limitations of your body so that strain of spinal joints is avoided.
The stimulating nature of these postures means that they are considered to be more extroverting…allowing the practitioner to be open to life’s experiences.
Back bends should normally be followed by a forward bend like Shashankasana or pose of the child (see previous post) as this helps to balance out the body and allows the previously compressed vertebra to open up again.