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Backbends to Relieve Back Pain

Guest Author - Deborah Mauldin

Out of necessity we live life by moving forward. To get from one place to another we move our bodies forward to walk. To drive, read a book, work at a computer or do anything that requires our hands we orient our bodies so that the arms and hands are forward of the torso. Even progress is measured with either forward or backward movement. However when it comes to your physical body, a price may be had for not balancing forward motion with backward movement.

Over time the shoulders may hunch forward and the chest may collapse inward. A slouched posture like this can lead to aching back muscles because of the strain that is put on the spine to keep the torso upright. The muscles ache because they have been stretched as far as they can go and have seized up in order to keep from tearing.

Adding backbends to your practice will help to open up the chest area. Adding postures into your yoga practice that open up the chest will stretch the muscles on the front side of the torso and strengthen the muscles of the back. The shoulders will be able to move back and the neck will lengthen. Your posture will improve greatly.

Backbend Postures That Open the Chest Area
Crescent Moon Pose - Anjaneyasana
King of the Dancers Pose or Dancers Pose - Natarajasana
Revolved Forehead to Knee Pose - Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana
Camel Pose - Ustrasana
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Fish Pose - Matsyasana
Bow Pose - Dhanurasana
Upward Facing Dog Pose - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Upward Plank Pose - Purvottanasana
Upward Bow Pose or Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana

Sequences
The following sequences are built of postures and counter postures that work to open up the front of the torso. The standing sequence can be done as a sun salutation at the beginning of your practice however do not go deeply into any backbend at the beginning. Be gentle on your spine! There is no purpose in putting too much pressure on your spine when it is not warmed up. Do the floor sequence nearer to the end of your practice after your body has warmed up and the spine is able to handle deeper backbends.

Standing Flow
INHALE: Mountain Pose - Tadasana
EXHALE: Slight backbend, bring arms out like goal posts and press the heart upwards to create a slight backbend
INHALE: Mountain Pose - Tadasana
EXHALE: swan dive into Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana
INHALE: Halfway Lift Urdhva Mukha Uttanasana
EXHALE: High Plank to Low Plank - Chatarunga Dandasana
INHALE: Upward Facing Dog Pose - Urdvha Mukha Svanasana
EXHALE: Downward Facing Dog Pose - Ardo Mukha Svanasana

Floor Sequence
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Downward Facing Dog Pose Ardho Mukha Svanasana
Bow Pose Dhanurasana
Camel Pose Ustrasana
Seated Forward Fold Paschimottanasana
Fish Pose Matsyasana
Happy Baby Pose Urdhva Mukha Upavista Konasana


Thoughts on Alignment
As you work to open up the front side of your torso be cautious and mindful of your spine. It cannot be said often enough that the spine needs protecting. Today you may feel that your spine is healthy, but doing backbends without properly preparing your spine can cause small yet incremental damage that can lead to greater injury in the future.

The spine protects the spinal cord so when it comes to the spine think length and neutral alignment and aim to keep from collapsing in the spine. The spine has four natural curves in it that help it to act like a spring. Being mindful of these curves keep the spine long as you move into your backbend. Lengthen from the tailbone up through the base of the skull by tucking the tailbone under and lengthening through the top of your head.

In some backbends it may feel natural to drop the head back to go deeper into the posture, but I strongly caution against this because it collapses the cervical spine. Instead of dropping the head back, keep the neck long in the backbend. To deepen into a backbend look as far up as you can without dropping the head. If you are advanced in your practice and are under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher, then perhaps you may drop your head back in more advanced postures, but until then do your spine a favor and keep your neck long.

On a final note, if you are experiencing back pain then check with your doctor before beginning a yoga practice. Backbends may exacerbate any existing physical issues. If your back pain is accompanied by any other symptoms such as numbness or pain and tingling or weakness in your legs, definitely check with your doctor to see which yoga postures you should avoid.
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Content copyright © 2013 by Deborah Mauldin. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deborah Mauldin. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Terri Johansen for details.

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