There are many benefits to backbending, both physical and emotional. It’s typical to find at least one backbend in a yoga class; at least during cobra in sun salutes. When we bend in the back we strengthen the muscles along the spine and those in the lower back for sure, but there’s more to it than that.
Backbending poses can actually help you to realign the spine. As I sit writing this post right now I have one leg crossed over the other causing a slight curve in the lower part of my spine (well, not anymore- I just corrected myself). This habitual practice in itself will cause back pain over time as the spine adjusts to this way of sitting. But even the action of sitting itself causes a tightening of the hip flexor muscles which pulls at the spine. See this post for more information about how sitting affects the body. It’s typical for the spine to become misaligned with these and other actions that move our spines forward and round them. By pulling the shoulders back and arching backward – even slightly – you help to realign the spine as the vertebrae open the other way from the norm as pictured here:
But that’s not all! Backbending poses open up the chest muscles and abdominal muscles as well as the intercostal muscles that are found between ribs. During this process the heart also receives a stretch resulting in increased efficiency in pumping blood throughout the body. At the same time the respiratory system is wide open allowing an unrestricted breath. The kidneys found near the lower part of the back behind the diaphragm receive a squeeze in backbends causing an influx of fresh blood on the release. Fresh blood = fresh oxygen = healing.
The digestive system is also benefited by backbends. As the internal organs that are found in the abdomen are stimulated their efficiency increases helping to fight off constipation and improve digestion in general. This can also help with menstrual cramps.
Energetically, backbends open the anahata (heart) chakra, increasing our compassion and loving-kindness both for ourselves and others. It is said that these heart opening poses can also combat depression. There is a definite release of tension and an endorphin boost when practicing backbends. Remember to practice with compassion, honoring your personal limitations to prevent injury and to get the most out of these powerful poses.
I’ll post more on the actual poses soon!