Many of us suffer from back pain. Whether it’s your low back, mid back, or up around your shoulders and neck, stretching - and practicing yoga - has many benefits including relieving back pain. With yoga, like any physical activity, it’s best to enter into the poses slowly and not to push yourself to your limit. If you feel like you’re at the peak of your stretch - then release the pose about 10%. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
There are many benefits to backbend poses in yoga besides pain relief. A backbend can open your chest and help improve respiration. They’re strengthening for your arms and thighs, as well as, relieving tight vertebrae. Backbends improve spine flexibility over time and can provide a deep stretch for your ankles, thighs, groin, abdomen, chest, and throat. Additionally, backbends expand the abdominal region which can improve digestion. Now that you know the benefits of backbends, let’s learn some poses that you can incorporate into your own yoga practice.
Backbend Yoga Poses
Baby Cobra Pose
Start Baby Cobra Pose by laying on your belly. Place your hands to the mat, under shoulders, fingers pointing towards to the top of your mat. Elbows should be bent and arms pulled into the side of your body. Gently lift your chest slightly off your mat. Keep your head aligned with your neck and spine.
Begin in Baby Cobra - hand placement the same on your mat. Press hands into your mat, lifting chest into the air - working arms towards straight.
Begin Sphinx pose by laying on your belly. Place forearms on your mat, elbows aligned under your shoulders, fingers pointing towards the top of your mat, palms flat. Lift through your chest, keeping head and neck in line with your neck and spine.
Bridge Pose - Variation One
Begin Bridge Pose by laying on your back on your mat. Bend knees, bringing your feet onto the mat and as close as you can towards your bum. Feet should be about hip-width distance apart. Place a block between your thighs, press your feet firmly into your mat, and lift your hips off the mat - holding the block between your thighs. By using the block between your thighs, you’re helping to keep your legs aligned with your core and engaging your thighs and core in the lift a little more.
Bridge Pose - Variation Two
Begin this Bridge Pose variation the same way, on your back with your knees bent, and feet on the mat close to your bum. Press your feet firmly into your mat, lifting your bum off the mat. Place a block underneath your sacrum - at any height of the block that feels most comfortable to you. Release your hips/sacrum onto the block.
Bridge Pose - Variation Three
Before getting into this pose, place a strap across your mat - underneath you - roughly under your hips when you’re laying down. Lay down on your back, bend your knees, place feet onto the mat and as close to your bum as is comfortable. Feet should be about hips distance apart and toes facing towards the short end of the mat in front of you. Press into your feet, lift your hips off the mat, and grasp the strap with both hands on each side of your body. Start to tuck your shoulders underneath you as you crawl your hands inward/underneath your body using the strap as guidance. Work towards your hands meeting beneath you. If your hands meet, then consider working your hands up the opposite forearms, towards cradling your elbows underneath you.
Camel Pose - Variation One
Begin by placing your blocks together, on the shortest height, on the mat behind you. From kneeling, place your toes - tucked under - up onto the blocks. Slowly backbend using your hands on your heels for stability. If this doesn’t feel challenging enough, consider removing the blocks.
Note - if you have discomfort in your knees when kneeling, consider adding a folded blanket under them for additional padding.
Camel Pose - Variation Two
Bring yourself to a kneeling position with your toes tucked under behind you. Place a bolster onto your calves - behind your thighs. Slowly backbend, finding the bolster with your hands for support. If you would like an additional challenge, try with a folded blanket, instead of the bolster.
Camel Pose - Variation Three
From kneeling, tuck your toes under. Place your hands on your low back/hips/bum and bend backwards, using your hands/arms to support your recline. Be careful not to throw your head back - keep your head and neck aligned with your spine.
Cow Pose - Variation One
From a comfortable seated position (seated cross legged, legs out in front of you, in a chair with feet firmly placed on the ground - whatever is most comfortable for you), inhale, elongating your spine. Exhale and lower your shoulders. Inhale and lift through your chest, bending backwards, lifting your chin.
Note - the opposite pose of Cow is Cat Pose. They are often done together - back and forth - on inhales and exhales. To move from Cow Pose to Cat Pose - exhale, rounding your back, shoulders moving forward, chin dropping towards chest. You can use these postures together - anytime you would like a short break - inhale to Cow - backbend, exhale to Cat - forward, tucked chin.
Cow Pose - Variation Two
Traditionally, Cow/Cat Poses are done on your knees. This can be tricky if you have knee pain or trouble getting to or from the floor. Consider placing a folded blanket under your knees to add some padding for them. Begin on your hands and knees with a flat back. Toes can be tucked under or tops of your feet flat on the mat. Knees aligned under your hips, hands aligned under your shoulders. To enter Cow Pose, inhale - dropping your chest towards the mat, bending backwards, raising your chin. To enter Cat Pose, exhale - rounding your back, dropping your chin to your chest. Try going back and forth between these poses a half dozen times - aligning the movement with your breath.