Do Not Fear The Backbend

Posted on March 5, 2024

Backbend Workshop May 2014

When people hear about yoga backbends, they often envision a contortionist with their head resting on their buttocks. Bending backward looks pretty tough, even a bit painful. A few years ago, a student expressed feeling pain just by looking at the backbends on the wall at my yoga school in Toronto.

They looked pretty good to me!

But if the truth were told, even for practitioners like me who have been practicing backbends for years, know it is not something that comes easily. Flex is running a workshop, Sensational Backbends, on May 17 from 12.30-2.30 with yogi Dr Abhishek Agrawal, a time where you can unlock the secrets of your spine and really nail that backbend.

For anyone interested in the practice, here’s a few pointers on how to take backbends in your yoga stride.

Here are the seven things you need to know:

Backbends shake you out of your comfort zone.

If we stop and think about it most (if not all) of our daily movements are limited to moving forward. Rarely do we spend time defying gravity by moving upside-down, backward or sideways. It just feels natural to bend forward. It’s also the obvious thing to do when picking something off the floor. However, backbends offer an exciting way to move the spine. This creates better balance between our normal activities and breaks-up the rigidity of the spine.

Keep your brain healthy and your heart active.

Medical studies have shown many people suffer from chronic back-pain. An interesting study conducted in an American university linked the effects of continuous low back pain to lowering the grey matter of the brain. Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar recommended back-bending as a cure for depression. He further advised that backbends be used as a holistic alternative for heart patients. Because backbends stretch the heart they relieve tensions stored in the muscles and help send off natural painkillers. They may also boost the immune system by energizing and refreshing the body.

Backbends are a great teacher of life skills.

When we come face-to-face against our physical edge our minds our challenged. This presses us to develop patience or to drop out. If we to stick to the task we will benefit from the practice in learning how to slow down as well as breathe. The practice also takes energy, devotion, will, discipline and care; all good things for life. And being true to life, backbending is no exception in that there are setbacks. Sometimes we stretch too much and need to learn our limits.

There is no traditional system of Hatha-yoga that omits backbends.

To name just a few of the traditional forms Sivananda-yoga contains wheel (chakrasana), bridge (setu-bandha sarvangasana) and locust (shalabhasana) as its basic postures. In the primary series of Ashtanga-yoga the pickings are slimmer, but wheel still shows up. In AtmaVikasa Yoga developed by Yogacharya V. Venkatesha, a full system of backbends is taught. These range from the crocodile posture (makarasana) to full locust (shalabhasana) to camel (ushtrasana), with a closing sequence offering bridge and wheel.

Backbends are far more than contortions.

It is a misconception to think the practice is only about contortionism. It does contain some pretty extreme and unusual positions, but that’s not the whole picture. Frankly speaking, what can you honestly expect if you have never bent backward before? What they do – notwithstanding medical issues or injuries – is simply extend the entire spine and move the body laterally, forward and backward.

The practice never promised Cirque du Soleil.

In the end, the bud of yoga appears differently from one practitioner to the next. In other words, getting your feet to your head may or may not be the goal. Does that make you less interested and/or insincere in your practice? No. But we are guaranteed success with a consistent practice and a sincere effort (which is where a workshop really helps).

Happy backbending!

This is an edited version of a story originally appearing on, by Heather Morton,

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