Backbends, if practicing correctly, they are very healthy. They can be key for your physical and mental wellbeing!
Bending backwards, I would dare to say that either you love it or you hate it - at least at the beginning. When you are used to be hours long hunched forwards, doing a backbend can feel like "what the heck is going on...." Brain gets usually confused, and it can even create anxiety and dizziness.
I started practicing backbends through yoga already in an adult age. I grew up swimming and afterwards I run half marathons, so not exactly sports where you tend to bend backwards :-D
However, from the very beginning, I never felt panic with backbends. Instead, I loved the feeling it gave me connecting to myself and opening my mind to the unknown. Through the yoga practice, I progressed and started even touching my foot with my head, which it gave me a even deeper connection to myself. Yes, I know, it sounds super philosophical - maybe it is because my mum is a philosophy teacher. What can I do... I have it on my blood ;-)
Now, back to seriousness: backbends, if practicing correctly, they are very healthy. Physically, you are mobilizing the spine and all the connected muscles and nerves to it, helping to energize yourself. You are also encouraging the spine to get back to its neutral position after hour longs forward folded (here I am screaming to all those students and office workers, who sit hours long on a desk!!!).
Psychologically, backbends will open you a new world. From gaining trust in yourself and coping better with fear, to keeping calm and breathing deeper in critical moments. I found myself much more confident and calm when giving speeches in front of people, or managing tight deadlines, thanks to my advance back bending practice.
I do think you should always consult with your doctor before taking on any backbend routine, and foremost if you already have a health condition though. Keep as well in mind, at the beginning you can easily experience dizziness or/and headache. Think about it: when you backbend, you are stretching the abdominal region and massaging the organs as never before. Also the spinal cord and nerves get stimulated. So, do not freak out if your body reacts strangely and your friends don't feel anything. We are all different ;-)
The top 5 benefits
research confirms about backbends plus what I have experienced!
Relieve anxiety and stress: We accumulate so much tension in our body. More than what we think! By mobilizing the spine and muscles backwards, we are helping releasing the accumulated stress in the whole region. When backbending correctly, we also compress the chest, bringing direct awareness to our breathing. Hence, we start to learn to breath in moments, where we feel our chest tight - like when we suffer anxiety and have fear. In addition, according to research, by compressing the back of the body where the kidneys and adrenal glands are located, we help the body reducing cortisol in the blood, lowering our stress on the chemical level.
Energize your nervous system: When bending backwards, we open our chest and throat, and increase the pressure at the heart centre. At the same time, the adrenals are squeezed and the heat in the body is increased which activates the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response mechanism). This stimulation to the sympathetic nervous system, it can energize the mind and body. And wake you up - hence it is recommended not to practice backbends too hardcore before sleeping :-)
Build self-confidence: In tune with the two previous points, a backbend helps us going through fear, through the unknown. We also open the torso, where according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is an area where we store a lot of emotions. In addition, in a healthy backbend, you open hips, stomach and heart - additional areas, where we also store negative and positive emotions. Fear and love. Sadness and happiness. Also, just the action of releasing the head backwards and opening the throat can be overwhelming. However, once you go through the backbend, opening the throat and other regions of the body, we develop the sense of "letting it go" and being free. Being released from our fears and daily worries, as well as the accumulated daily tension. So all together, it empowers and increases our self confidence and trust on ourselves, on our decisions and attitude towards life.
Build a strong and flexible back: In our modern world we tent to sit long hours hunched forward, shortening and weakening the back muscles. As claimed by research, over time, these forward bend postures can lead to shallower breath, digestive issues and pain in the chest and back. Through backbends, we reverse this trend by mobilizing the spine in the opposite direction. We also stretch the chest and upper back muscles, regions that also get shorted and closed due to the hunched forward posture. Furthermore, bending backwards we don't only keep our spine flexible, healthy and young; but we also keep the back muscles and the abdominal area fit. The more advanced backbends you practice, the more strength you need to develop in order to hold the spine in extreme range of motions. Which it is wonderful! Having a strong and flexible back corrects and maintains the spinal alignment, contributing to a better posture in our daily lives.
Improve your digestion: As other asanas from Yoga, backbends help in our digestion by massaging the inner organs. They also help us detoxifying the abdominal area, while strengthening it. In addition, according to research, with a sedentary lifestyle and hours long sitted, the intestines become stagnant and lose part of their ability to move food through the digestive system and waste out. So by bending backwards, we reverse this trend: we stretch our whole abdominal area, untightening these stagnant areas in the gut.
"But... backbends give me pain"
The truth is, when practicing them wrong, backbends can give you pain. Like in every sports, if your body alignment is not correct, you will eventually get injured. In the case of backbends, it is very tricky to get the perfect, pain free backbend: you need to control your limits, balance the flexibility and strength of your back, activate the right muscle groups and much more...
I can't recommend enough working together with an experienced coach in backbends. Also, be careful trying out back bending workouts that you see on the social media. There is much more going on underneath the skin than what you may see in a pose.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and please do not hesitate to comment below or share your thoughts in the topic!
You can read more about flexibility and backbending at Fit & Bendy Blog. Kristina Nekya has some really interesting articles on the topic that I totally recommend having a look at them!