My Top Tip for a Healthy Energising Backbend
Ah the beautiful, dramatic backbend. They always look so striking and are touted as the most energising, heart opening poses. It’s no wonder then that back bends can often be troublesome as students desperately try to create deep expansive arches in an effort to feel the benefits or look the part.
Backbends, if done safely, are absolutely energising. They open muscles through the front of the body such as the chest, shoulders, belly and hip flexors, these are areas that, in our current culture, are often shortened and tightened due to daily seated postures and slouching. So yes, they are so, so good for you. Let’s discuss how to move into backbends mindfully and safely so that you can work towards that gorgeous heart opening asana, pain free.
You may have heard a teacher say “tuck your tailbone”, the idea of this is that you avoid overextending in the lower spine and lengthen the lumbar vertebra as you backbend, however this action often has you clench your glutes and harden through your sacroiliac joint (where the lower spine and tailbone attaches to the back of the large pelvic bones), this immobilises your lower spine having you bend sharply through only a couple of vertebra (L4 & L5) instead of spreading the curve and the pressure evenly.
A healthier way is to bring focus to your pelvic floor and engage Mula Bandha. Mula Bandha or ‘root lock’ is one of a set of locks to enhance your asana and pranayama practice. These are practices steeped in ancient yogic tradition, originally and still used to affect energy or prana within the body, which also have powerful strengthening effects to hold you strong in your physical practice.
To engage your Mula Bandha focus on the space between your genitals and your anus, your perineum. Draw this upward to engage, as you do this you might notice a butterfly effect of contraction as it moves upward to engage your transverse abdominals, here you feel the space below your belly button moving inward and upward. The transverse abdominals are your deepest abdominal muscles and they act as stabilisers of the spine and pelvis by wrapping right around the core to distribute the stress of movement evenly.
Another way to connect with your Mula Bandha or pelvic floor is to engage your inner thighs, rolling them in and backward, this will also create a ripple effect of engagement through pelvic floor and transverse abdominals. This action also creates a subtle internal rotation which releases the sacrum from any tight gripping of the pelvis, allowing it to move naturally as you arch. It can still be helpful to imagine that your tail bone is lengthening away from your lower spine to avoid over arching between sacrum and lumbar, but remember to release the glutes and engage pelvic floor as well, this will ultimately lead to a happy sacrum and lower back.