Deep backbends like Ustrasana (Camel) and Urdhva Danurasana (Upward Bow Pose) usually happen towards the end of a yoga class, and the time leading up to these postures should be spent preparing the body.
So before attempting these poses, it’s important to focus on opening and activating the areas of your body that you need to get into the posture safely.
The name back bend is a bit misleading, as much of the strength and flexibility required to do these postures safely actually comes from the front of the body.
For safe and deep backbends, you need open but strong quads and hip flexors, good mobility in your chest and shoulders, and a strong core to support you.
If we lack strength or flexibility in the areas listed above, we tend to bend from our lower back in order to ‘deepen’ the pose, which can cause serious pain and harm to our spine in the long run. Avoid this by following proper alignment in backbends:
Create a solid base. Ground firmly through all four corners of your feet and hands, lifting through your calves and quads for support.
Rotate the thighs in. Be sure not to let your legs splay out and away from each other. Instead, focus on rotating your thighs toward each other.
Engage your core. Drawn your navel toward your spine and keep your abdominal muscles strong and steady. This is the most important step in protecting your lower back.
Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Whether you’re doing a gentle cobra or a dynamic wheel, make sure your neck is long and your shoulders aren’t hunched up toward your ears.
Ben completed his first teacher training with Jim Harrington and went on to further study with Matthew Sweeney. His personal practice includes the Intermediate Ashtanga series, as well as the Vinyasa Krama Sequences of Matthew Sweeney—Chandra, the Moon sequence; Simha, the Lion Sequence; and Baddha, the Bound sequence. Ben loves movement in all expressions and can be found off the yoga mat hiking, surfing and playing like a child in a tree. Beyond the physical, Ben’s personal exploration of yoga has also inspired him to travel to India, start Vipassana Meditation, pursue Yoga Philosophy and move into a vegetarian diet. He has a quirky love for fermented foods and will happily trade recipes for kimchi or kombucha.