In today’s sedentary world, we spend a great deal of time bent over phone screens or hunched over a keyboard. Protecting and taking care of our backs is more important than ever, and incorporating backbends into a daily yoga practice is a valuable way to keep our backs healthy. Below are seven backbend poses to add to your yoga practice to keep your spine and body moving well.
7 Backbend Poses to Add to Your Yoga Practice
Practicing backbends can help us move in the opposite direction of our day-to-day postures that keep us bent forward, helping us break up our habitual patterns of movement and taking us out of our comfort zone. Backbends help us keep length and strength in the spine as they challenge us to move in new ways.
Safety is always important when learning backbends, so it is best to go slow when testing your backbend limits, and to practice with a trained teacher when possible. Completing a warm-up before moving into backbend poses is also essential. One your body is properly prepared, try these seven beginner and intermediate backbend poses in your practice to open and lengthen the spine.
- Cobra (bhujangasana): Cobra opens and strengthens the entire back and shoulders while improving flexibility of the upper and middle back. Begin by lying on the floor on your belly. Chin is on the floor, legs are together, and palms are flat on the mat under the shoulders. Lift the head and chest off the floor, keeping the head in line with the neck and navel on the mat. Keeping the elbows pulled into the sides, press into the hands and lift up higher. Drop shoulders down and press the chest forward. Hold for 2-6 breaths.
- Extended puppy pose (utthita svanasana): This gentle backbend opens and lengthens the spine and gently stretches the upper back, arms, and shoulders. Begin in tabletop position. Push back through the arms, and allow the tailbone to move up towards the ceiling. Let the forehead rest on the floor as you stretch the arms towards the top of the mat. Hips should be lined up over the knees. Let the chest sink down towards the floor, feeling an arch and stretch in the middle of the back. Hold for 4-8 breaths.
- One-handed tiger (eka hasta vyaghrasana): This pose lengthens the spine and stretches the entire front body. From tabletop position, reach the right foot up towards the ceiling while looking straight ahead. There should be a gentle arch in the spine. Shift your weight into your right hand and carefully reach the left hand to hold onto the inside of the right ankle. Keeping both arms straight, gently kick the right foot into the left arm to lift the leg higher and slightly increase the arch in the spine. Hold for 2-4 breaths, release gently back to tabletop, and repeat on the other side.
- Camel (ustrasana): Camel pose stretches and opens the front of the body, relieves lower back pain, and improves flexibility of the spine and posture. Start in a kneeling position with knees hip-width apart. Place hands on the lower back with fingers pointed down. Reach the crown of the head up to find length in the spine and then slowly and gently push hips forward as you start to bend backwards. Carefully reach the right hand to the right heel, and then the left hand to the left heel. Head can be dropped back if it feels comfortable. Hold for 3-6 breaths.
- Locust (salabhasana): Locust opens the back, chest, shoulders, spine, abdominals, and also strengthens the back. Start by lying on your belly, forehead on the floor, legs together, and arms alongside the body with the palms up. While keeping the pubic bone pressed into the floor, inhale and lift the legs, head, chest, and arms off of the floor. Keeping arms parallel to the floor and thumbs toward the mat, reach out through the fingers, toes, and crown of the head. Keep the neck in line with the spine. Drop the shoulders down and back and press the chest forward. Hold for 2-6 breaths.
- Dancer (natarajasana): Takes the benefits of backbends and adds the challenge of a standing balance on one leg. Begin by standing in mountain pose. Shift weight onto left leg and then bend your right knee while grabbing the inside of the right foot with the right hand. Press the right foot into the hand as you begin to tilt forward and reach the left arm forward and out. Hold for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.
- Wild thing (camatkarasana): This pose stretches the chest, shoulders, and throat, as well as the hip flexors and front legs.The pose also builds strength in the arms, shoulders, and upper back. Beginning in downward-facing dog, lift your right leg to down dog split. Bend the knee and open the hip. Continue opening the hip so that the right leg crosses over the body and the toes come to rest on the ground. Keep the right knee bent and reach the right arm up and out over the head. Lift the hips up, relax the head back and hold for 3 breaths. Come back to plank and then downward dog before repeating on the other side.
Backbend poses require discipline, patience, and focus. While they are a challenging addition to our practice, they offer many rewards as well. To continue your backbending practice, check out Steph Gongora’s Full Body Backbends.