Doing backbends in yoga - such as Bow pose, Wheel and Camel -- increase the extension in your spine and open the front side of the body. Backbends reverse the daily forward-hunched position many experience from working at desks, sitting in the car and traveling on airplanes. When you open up the front side of your body, you stand taller and can breathe easier. To achieve full range of motion in the dozens of joints involved in back bending and to prevent injury, put backbends later in your practice after warming up the muscles that facilitate the movement. If you are new to yoga, practice in the presence of a registered yoga teacher. If any pose causes pain or extreme discomfort, come out of it immediately.
Quadriceps and Hips
When the fronts of your thighs and hip flexors are tight, it is hard to bend backward. Try Hero's pose for the quadriceps and deep lunges, such as Crescent Lunge, for the fronts of the hips. To do Hero's pose, kneel on your shins and lean slightly backward. For a Crescent lunge, face the front of the room and step your right foot back about three to four feet. Drop your right knee to the floor as you bend the left knee and raise your arms up toward the ceiling. If the full expression of these poses is too intense, use a block to sit on during Hero's pose and come to the top of your knee during the lunge. People with knee pain may kneel on a blanket or folded towel.
Muscles of the Spine
The spine needs to be mobile prior to bending it backward. Get into an all-fours position and do Cow by concaving your spine and lifting your head and chest followed by Cat by arching your spine. Alternate these poses several times during the first few minutes of your practice to increase lubrication of the spinal column and warm up the extensors -- also called the erector spinae. Performing Downward Dog and Upward Dog also helps with spinal mobility by waking up the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. Get into Downward Dog from all-fours. Plant your hands firmly in the mat, tuck your toes under and lift your hips and buttocks up to the ceiling to create in inverted "v" shape. For Upward dog, lower your entire body so you are face down in the mat. Place your hands under your shoulders and lift your chest, thighs and shins up into a slight backbend as you keep the tops of your feet in the floor. To warm up the quadratus lumboris dynamically, use Twists to warm up these small muscles responsible for rotation. For example, get into the Crescent Lunge with your left foot forward and bring your hands into a prayer position at the center of your chest. Keep your hands together and twist your right elbow outside your right thigh for a Revolved Lunge.
Shoulders and Chest
When your shoulders and chest are tight, deep backbends. such as Wheel pose -- a backbend in which you are balanced only on your hands and feet -- and Bow pose -- done from a forward-lying position with your hands holding your ankles, may be inaccessible. Do Upward Plank pose to help align the shoulders and broaden the pectoralis major, the primary chest muscle. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands about three inches behind your hips, fingers pointed toward your feet. Extend your elbows and lift up until you are in a straight line from your toes to your shoulders. If your wrists are sensitive, skip this pose.
Begin your practice with three to five Sun Salutations to warm up the entire body. For a Sun Salute, stand and raise your arms to the ceiling, bend forward and then jump back to perform a pushup, Upward Dog and then Downward Dog. Return to standing for one full salute. Standing poses, such as Warrior One and Warrior Two, also bring circulation to the muscles and joints to prepare you for backbends. Warrior One is done like a lunge, but the back foot is placed fully into the mat at a 45-degree angle, arms raised overhead. To move into Warrior Two, open the hips slightly to the side wall and extend your arms to the front and back of the mat, keeping them parallel to the floor. More advanced practitioners might warm up the shoulders and spine with arm balances, including Handstand, says Iyengar-certified yoga teacher, Roger Cole, Ph.D in вЂњYoga Journal.вЂќ