Let’s talk Backbends
“If your spine is inflexible at thirty – you’re old.
If your spine is flexible at sixty – you’re young.”
– Joseph Pilates
Why I love backbends
If you come to my classes regularly, you’ll know it’s no secret that I LOVE a backbend.
In fact, I’ve been told I’ve been backbending since I was born. I remember my Dad saying as a baby I would sleep with my spine arched like I was trying to touch my head with my toes – a lot like Scorpion pose. And, as an ‘old-school, East End’ Dad, he’d say to my Mum “there’s something wrong with that baby” (I miss him) and to tell the truth, I still sleep the same way now…
Backbends are a big part of my personal practice. I regularly practise bridge, wheel, and camel, and add in variations on these postures for my personal development.
For me, they boost vitality through my body, refresh my mind, and give me inner strength. I know it’s not the same for everyone. For some of us, backbends stimulate fear and anxiety – along with being tough to do!
Why you should backbend
We spend much of our daily lives with our spines in forward flexion: hunched over desks, coffees, computers, cycling, picking up kettlebells and weights in the gym, carrying babies and picking up little ones, and we even have an ‘i-neck’ now from walking and looking at the phone simultaneously. How many of us bump into stuff and step into the road without looking? Keeping the spine in a state of constant flexion can lead to discomfort and affect our posture.
A healthy spine benefits from a full range of movement including rotation, lateral flexion, flexion, and extension. Backbends can improve posture, the muscles around the spine become stronger and more flexible, the hip flexors and front body are stretched, and there’s more space across the chest. Therapeutically, this can help with easing some kinds of back pain.
Why are backbends difficult?
So why is it a lot of us hold back in backbends? Could it be more to do with our emotions, rather than the physical? When we stretch out our front body, or “open the heart”, as some refer to it, all of our organs are exposed; there’s vulnerability, a fear of of letting go, and we can feel out of control emotionally. This may be a reflection of how we feel in some situations in our lives off the mat.
Physically, if our hip flexors are too tight, we’re not able to rotate the pelvis backwards, which can cause discomfort in the lower back. In short, when our emotions kick in on top of our physical limitations, we can physically feel stuck and halt ourselves mid-movement. When we work on backbends, we have to work with both physical and emotional blocks to increase our individual range of motion.
How to approach backbends with ease
In my classes and workshops, I encourage you with my input to move slowly into the shape and feel the breath between each vertebrae – keeping breath soft and broad, pausing to experience what comes up for you, and staying present with it. Doing this will help you to overcome any fear or emotions.
As you practise, visualise the shape of your spine as it moves into the posture, with steady even paced breath and sensation.
Once the fear subsides, the opportunity to experience sheer joy is waiting for you to tap into.
Tips for practising backbends at home
• Visualise the shape of the pose before you begin, and practise the pose 3 – 5 times.
• Move slowly into the shape. Pause if you need to (for 3/4 breaths), and continue if you can.
• If fear or manageable discomfort appears, keep the breath steady so the inhale and exhale breath is of a similar length.
• Build up to holding your shape for between 5 and 7 breaths.
• Come out of the pose as slowly as you went in.
• Pause for 3-5 breaths before practising the next round.
Get in touch – I’d love to know how you get on…!