There's No Going Back
Rethinking Backbends from the Frontal Plane
by Tracey Rich
Extend, don't bend. I call this a cardinal rule in practicing backbends. As soon as we decide we are moving into back arching positions, our thoughts immediately go to the back of our body. We think back, and we think bend. If we could stop and redirect our thoughts, backbends would become more energized, balanced, and supportive. Move your backbends to the frontal plane of your body.
Although a lot of moving pieces go into practicing healthy backbends, bringing awareness to the frontal plane of our bodies is an important place to start. Stay attentive, stay out of your back. Sense and envision your backward arcs from the inside front of your spine and from the front plane of your body. Start making the shift.
It sounds so redundant, but breathe! So often yoga practitioners get lost in their efforts to get somewhere in their backbends that they lose track of their breath. If you can not track your breath as you extend backwards in your posture, you are in too deep. If you have dropped your breath, ease back out of the pose and find out where you lost it. Your breath is everything and will direct each millimeter of your pose, giving you very specific feedback along the way.
Staying attentive, practicing deep, balanced breathing, warming key muscle groups, and bending evenly along the spine are necessary components of backbends. The more complex the back arch, the more you want to stay acutely aware of these components. Extend, don't bend or compress your cervical spine. If you stay engaged along the frontal plane of your body this can infinitely be avoided.
Depending on the type of back arch you are working with, grounded feet, legs, knees and thighs are intrinsic to rooting your pose. While hamstrings are an essential guideline for forward motion in poses, quadriceps are key muscles when moving backwards. In an effort to move forward or backwards, many people override the signals from these muscle groups in order to get where they imagine themselves going. The spine suffers. Necks and backs are compromised and blown out of joint.
Backbends are poses that should extend, not bend. Forward thinking will save your backward bending.