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.
These asanas rely on gravity to bring the trunk of the body forward. In many the hands are raised above the head such as in Pada Hastasana (hand to foot pose). Forward bending asanas loosen up the back, gently stretching the back muscles and separating the vertebrae whilst the compression in the abdominal area provide a gentle massage for the digestive system. An exhaling breath is used as you bend forward activating relaxation and there is a general sense of letting go.. “surrendering to the moment”. When bending forward it is important to lead with the chest, to use the abdominal muscles to support the lumbar spine and to bend from the hips not from the waist.
Of course care must be taken with forward bends to ensure that you do not force the back to bend further than its present flexiblity will allow. Forward bends also put some stress on the lumbar spine particularly as you pass through the 20 degrees so people with lower back problems especially disc problems need to seek advice from a qualified yoga teacher and may need to check with their doctor. Often the practices can be performed in a modified way with shorter levers and for those people with high blood pressure you can ensure that the head does not move below the heart.
Forward bends such as Shashankasana (pose of the child) can be very soothing and are often a good way to release anger.
Forward bending poses should be followed by a backward bending pose to balance the practices out. A good one especially for beginners is also a relaxation pose known as the Crocodile pose (Makarasana)
Some useful links for yoga and the management of back pain are http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2000/cmay00/back1.shtml
Posted in Asana, Uncategorized
Tagged asana, breath awareness, forward bends, health, healthy-living, letting go, lumbar spine, Relaxation, yoga, Yoga postures