Here are my best three tips to improve your backbends! Backbends can be quite uncomfortable in the beginning and they can sometimes even cause pain, especially in the lower back. In order to practice safe and comfortable backbends there are three key things to keep in mind.
1. Work on opening up your upper back
Your lower back and neck are the most mobile areas of your spine and its very common, especially in the beginning of our backbend practice, to mainly bend from these areas. But this can cause discomfort and even pain in the long run. You want to make sure you work on opening up through your upper back. Now this might feel quite difficult because your upper/middle back (your thoracic spine) is mainly designed for twisting so the spinal vertebrae and facet joints look different than your neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). We'll never be able to backbend as deeply from our thoracic spine as from the other areas, but the more we can open up through here the better our backbends will feel! It was when I connected to my upper back that my entire backbend practice changed from uncomfortable and sometimes painful to pure bliss! Now my backbends are something I crave and I tend to practice them often because they really help my back feel good.
2. Strengthen your core
Most people dont think the core has much to do with backbends but a strong core means more stable backbends (i.e. less low back pain). If your brain and nervous system senses instability in areas of your spine such as the low back, it'll send pain signals and cause muscle spasms in order to protect you (it basically is telling you to stop because it senses danger). On the other hand, if your brain and nervous system senses stability, with practice you'll be able to go deeper and deeper in your backbends. So when you practice, make sure to do a lot of core work and I also like to start with core activation before practicing backbends. Think stability over depth, always!
3. Open the front of your hips
In most backbends we need to open up through the entire front body. If your hip flexors or quadriceps are tight, you'll jam into your low back and will feel pain. Backbends are about flexibility of the spine, sure. But its also about flexibility across our entire front chain - chest, shoulders, hips, and throat. So in a well rounded backbend practice we need to practice all of these! Make sure to take some proper time to warm up through your hip flexors and quads before backbending, think things like high lunge, low lunge, lizard pose and its variations, quad stretches like King Arthur and so on.
Backbends can be uncomfortable in the beginning but fi you stick with it they'll eventually start feeling like pure bliss, I promise! Make sure to practice smart and safely, and always warming up properly. Stay consistent with your practice and dont give up! Sometimes it can take months or years but if you learn to enjoy the process, the time doesnt matter.
If you want help with your backbends, check out my virtual yoga studio where I have yoga classes focused on backbends, and also specific backbend classes with lots of different techniques outside of yoga.
Check out the studio here:
Happy practicing, yogis!