In this lesson, we examine backbending poses as a category, and ways to apply this knowledge in teaching.
Become proficient in the nature and effects of backbending poses, and considerations for wisely teaching and sequencing them.
Describe the primary effect of backbends and a secondary effect that is experienced in active backbends. Define the anatomical term “extension” and explain what is meant by spinal extension in yoga. List categories of backbends, the actions that characterize them and an example of each. Describe the general physical and energetic effects of backbends. Define “nutation and “counternutation” and explain the proper action of the sacrum during backbending. Explain the circumstances under which students will likely benefit from contracting the glutes in backbending and when it is usually best to relax the glutes. Describe low body engagement and alignment practices to support healthy backbending. Describe sequencing considerations and provide a list of backbending poses.
Olga Kabel (here) organizes backbends into these categories:
When you bend backward or forward… the top of the sacrum automatically nods forward beyond its neutral position, and the tailbone shifts slightly backward. Studies show that this sacral nutation in spine-bending poses stabilizes the sacrum within the pelvic bones in a more secure and less vulnerable position than counternutation, where, particularly with backbending, you may be more at risk of pinching the tissues within the SI joints, forcing the SI joints into misalignment, or otherwise straining or jamming your low back. – Doug Keller, Yoga International, 5 Steps to Safer Backbends link
In the article, Glute-Free Backbends? anatomy expert Roger Cole advises that those with tight hip flexors may benefit from contracting glutes in backbending while those with open hip flexors are usually best relaxing glutes.
In Your Glutes in Backbends Part I anatomy expert Ray Long MD teaches that softening the glutes causes the hip extension to come from the hamstrings and that doing that often enough can set up a muscle imbalance and ultimately pain. He explains that engaging the glutes in backbends will tend to cause the knees to splay, however, and that squeezing a block between the knees is not a desirable approach to bring the femurs parallel.
The real counterbalance for the gluteus maximus causing the knees to splay apart is to contract the muscles that internally rotate the hips, namely, the TFL and front part of the gluteus medius. This cue works well, but it must be implemented in a sequence to function optimally. You have to engage the hip internal rotators before going up into the backbend. It’s difficult to engage them once you are up in the pose because when the hips are extending, the TFL and front part of the gluteus medius are at a biomechanical disadvantage for initiating contraction. – Ray Long MD, The Daily Bandha, Your Glutes in Backbends: Part I link
We hope you found this excerpt from our Member site useful and inspiring.
The backbending section on the Member site also includes:
We’ve worked hard to bring such excellent support for these other asana categories as well: