Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Open your Heart: Benefits of Backbends

Life weighs us down.

We spend so much time sitting, hunched over our computers.

Stress takes a toll, causing us to hunch our shoulders and tighten up our back muscles.

We become closed into ourselves.

We can't breathe.

But there is a solution. It's as simple as bending backwards.

The Benefits of Backbends: On and Off the Mat
Yes, this mountain pose is a backbend too!
Have you ever noticed those ladies at the grocery store who are hunched over their carts like they're carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders?

Maybe they are. Really, who likes grocery shopping? Not me. I know, first world problem. I want to go up behind them and pull their shoulders back and up off the cart. Can you imagine the reaction? They'd be dialing 911. Crazy yoga lady in aisle 7...

But think about how much better they'd feel about the task at hand if they stood up straight with their chest forward and shoulders back.

I love backbending in yoga, because it opens my chest, shoulders, and heart. After spending a few minutes in a backbend, it's almost as if a big weight has been lifted off my chest. Truly, I feel happier after backbending. Have you ever noticed how much better you feel when your shoulders are pulled back? Try it! It's hard to be sad when you're moving forward with your chest puffed out.

This is because backbends open your heart. Christine from Love, Life, Surf wrote a great post on backbends. She says that this heart opening makes you more open to emotions, experiences, relationships, and love. To me, the simple act of opening your shoulders and lifting your head makes you look confident, approachable, and ready to interact with other people. After practicing backbends on a regular basis, you will automatically walk taller.

Pulling your shoulders back and opening your chest gives you more room to breathe. I don't know about you, but breathing is #1 in my book of things to do. And when I'm stressed, being able to take deep breathes really helps me literally blow off steam. If I'm having a bad day, just bending backwards helps open me up to really make those breaths deep.

And I won't lie. I do love it when people compliment me on my good posture.

Runners get a huge benefit from backbends and shoulder openers. Good posture is a key component of proper running form. According to Danny Dreyer, author of Chi Running, the more you slump, the more your muscles have to work to keep you upright. That's energy you could use on the road!

So what are my favorite backbends? There are so many to choose from!

Some are fairly simple:

Cobra pose
Cobra pose. It's not about how high you go. In fact, you should try this one lifting your hands off the mat and letting your back do all the work. Then you know you're doing it correctly.
Some make you feel free:
Wild thing, you make my heart sing!
Wild thing, you make my heart sing! Start in downward dog, and flip your leg over to your side. Take the same arm over your head and let your head fall back.
Some are harder than they look:
Camel pose
Camel pose is a tough one. You can reach back, one side at a time. You can turn your toes under or use blocks under your hands. Or you can rest your hands on your lower back while leaning back into the pose.

The full monty:
Upward Facing Bow or Wheel Pose
The first time I got up into full wheel pose, I couldn't catch my breath. I came out of the pose and almost felt a little anxious. Opening up that much can make you feel vulnerable, even when you don't expect it. It's a little disconcerting at first. I recommend you start with bridge pose and work up to this one.
A couple of tips before you start backbending:
-make sure you warm up before you do a backbend. Don't just pull yourself up into wheel. You risk injury doing that! Start with a few downward dogs, cat cows, and forward bends. 
-make sure to protect your knees. If you're going up into wheel, turn your toes inward.
-don't push yourself too far. You will reap the benefits even with modifications. Less is more.
-Smile. Poses are always easier when you are smiling.

Keep your head up and your heart open
Even triangle pose can be a backbend. Pull your top arm back, lean back, and open your heart to the sky!
If you are interested in participating in some heart opener yoga challenges, I have 2 IG challenges for you! kellypenderyoga is hosting a 2 week heart opener/ backbend #InLoveWithYoga2106 challenge. It started Feb 1, but it's not too late to jump in! And ALO Yoga has a month long backbend challenge for February. It's called #dropbacklove and also starts Feb1. There are prizes if you post every day! Who's in? I'm going to try my hardest to participate! Will you join me?

Do you backbend? What is your favorite backbend?

I'm linking this post up with DebRuns and WednesdayWord. Today's word is heart. Let's all live with open hearts. More backbends!



I'm also linking up with the ladies at WildWorkoutWednesday! The Fit Foodie Mama, Fitful Focus, Fruition Fitness, and Angelena Marie host this fun link up! Check it out!






96 comments:

  1. Ooh this is one of my favorite things in yoga these days. Camel pose looks so easy but is tough! Now that I'm actually working on my yoga practice, I'm hoping to get better at some of these poses. -C

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    1. I feel like we just don't do enough backbending, in life and in yoga!

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  2. I have had such an "achy,breaky back" lately.....even looking at these makes me wince LOL (and I probably am not getting enough sleep.....).

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    1. Maybe you need more backbending in your life?

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  3. My grandma was a staunch advocate of good posture. No dowager's hump for her. If I had a nickel for everytime she told me to stand up straight, I'd be off in a tiki hut in Bali.

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    1. Oh, but that hump comes from osteoporosis. Hoping to avoid THAT!

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  4. Too many of us carry our daily stresses in our upper bodies and thus hunch over, making the physical, emotional, and mental stress that much worse. We all could benefit from taking a few moments each day to decompress with some yoga practice, whether its doing some backbends or other yoga poses.

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  5. I do like the easier backbends -- although I've gotten used to Camel now and it's not so hard -- but wheel still eludes me. Just not enough upper body strength, I guess. Been a while since I tried, but I'm pretty sure I'm not there yet.

    Ugh! I do work on my posture (it's even going to sneak into tomorrow's TOLT), but let's just say it ain't great. Another benefit: it makes you look thinner!

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    1. But you could do bridge and get the same benefits you get from wheel. It's all about where you are at.

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  6. I rarely do a full backbend, but do enjoy the other poses. We did a flow that included wild thing on Monday!

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    1. I love Wild Thing! It's one of my favorite poses!

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  7. Camel is one of my favorite poses. It is a pose that you have to learn how to do right, and how to relax into it, otherwise you spend the whole time fighting it. Metaphor, anyone?

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    1. Try doing it with your thighs against the wall. Humbling much?

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  8. This is great! I have a tendency to not open my chest up especially when I am tired on a long run. I have a bigger chest and it's a lot to hold up! I always feel better when I do camel or cobra. I am kind of scared of the more advanced poses. Looking good friend!

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    1. I've slowly gotten over my fear of backbends as I've gotten stronger. I'll never be super bendy, but I like where I'm at!

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  9. Because I have a weak lower back, I really avoid and struggle with backbends etc. However, I do try to incorporate cobra pose since that is a great one that does not give me any trouble. You are so flexible and your photos are gorgeous.

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    1. So funny, I never considered myself flexible until I took on this challenge. But it's selective flexibility...those hammies just don't want to open up!

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  10. Backbends really do feel awesome- I need to start doing them more often! Thanks for linking up and sharing :)

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  11. Such great moves and beautiful photos! I tweeked my wrist a few weeks ago, so I've given in a few weeks off from yoga involving my arm. I miss it! Hoping to get back in it this week!

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    1. Oh no! I hope your wrist feels better!

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  12. I do like the feeling of back bends I practice with my daughter she's in gymnastics great post.

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    1. Oh that would be so fun! You should post pictures of the two of you!

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  13. Back bends always feel glorious! I definitely need to work on my posture while I'm at the office. I always tell myself to, and then moments later I catch myself slouching!

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    1. Life has been weighing me down lately, and I find myself slouching too. This prompt was perfect timing!

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  14. I never realized the benefits of backbends, but it makes so much sense! I definitely need to do them more often. I'm really trying to improve my posture, so I'll keep this in mind!

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    1. They feel so good! Even a quick one, like mountain pose, makes you feel so much better!

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  15. When I get back to my routine, I hope soon, I plan to include some of these, at least in the modified versions.

    Every time I read your phrase, "open up your heart" or see a photograph of you doing just that, I remember the song from childhood "Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In." It always makes me smile.

    Remember?

    So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin.
    Smilers never lose and frowners never win.
    So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin

    Have a happy day.
    Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.

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    1. You just put a smile on my face! Thank you for that!

      Hope you are feeling better soon!

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  16. You look so beautiful doing every single one! You have given me my goals for the year! Do a backbend!

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  17. How about the people who hunch over on the treadmill, grabbing the side rails and "running" in a completely unnatural position? I guess they are getting a workout, but it can't be good for their backs.

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    1. The reminds me of back in the day (oh, I'm old) when there was the stair stepper at the health club and people would hunch over the monitor. As if you're doing anything good that way! LOL!

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  18. Gorgeous postures Wendy! Yoga helps me so much with running! Backbending for me, is totally emotional, esp in cobra!

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    1. Isn't that so interesting? I think opening your heart makes you feel so vulnerable, even without realizing it!

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  19. I read this: "We spend so much time sitting, hunched over our computers" while sitting, hunched over my computer and immediately straightened up! Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. It's just like what your mom used to tell you!

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  20. I am sitting here looking at all these photos and it's reminding me just how tight my back and shoulders are right now. I seriously need to start implementing some more yoga into my routine!

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  21. Cobra and camel pose are my absolute favorites! I always benefit from a good back stretch!

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  22. Such a great reminder! After i read and before I commented I stopped to do cobra pose for a bit. I'm already feeling better!

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  23. As a former gymnast I feel like I grew up in a backbend! I love a good heart opener and found myself doing it while sitting here reading :-) And, there are many places where I would love to give people a good heart opener!!

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    1. Haha! Now that's giving me a hilarious mental image!

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  24. We were working on backbends in yoga last night- I am so not flexible! But I am told I am a tall 5'7'' so that is a good thing! Rigid, i think is the work for me but I keep working at it :)

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    1. I'm not that bendy either, but no matter. You get the most you can out of every pose you do!

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  25. I love it when my Pilates workout includes a good back bend! Like you said, they're so beneficial for building good posture, which then improves running form and builds confidence. I'm not flexible, but being 5'9" with a long torso helps a little and makes backbends some of my favorite yoga poses.

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    1. We don't do backbends a lot in my yoga classes either. When we do, I'm so happy!

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  26. I love yoga but backbends are not my thing. It often aggravates my sciatic nerve and I have been doing yoga for years...
    Bow pose is the worse. Cobra is one of the only ones that I like....

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    1. You probably just need gentle backbending, like sphinx or that mountain pose I have above.

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  27. I'm sitting at my desk right now reading along and notice my posture. It is bad, no very bad. It's no wonder they say women hold stress there, in their shoulders. They? I don't know who I read it. Anyway I read along, follow your instructions and bam instant gratification. Deep breath and I feel so much better. How much do I owe ya? :) Thanks for the mini yoga session since I can't seem to incorporate it into my life and I know I should. Sighhhhh :)

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    1. Glad I could be of service! I carry stress in my shoulders too.

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  28. I love camel. Opening your heart opens up so many other things.

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  29. GREAT post. Love the pictures of your various poses!

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    1. Thank you! This yoga challenge has really inspired me this time around!

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  30. I love backbends! Some days I have no fear and can push and other days I don't want to go beyond a bridge. For me I feel them so much in my neck!

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    1. You don't want to push too hard! Good job listening to your body.

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  31. Haha...I can just picture you going up to the grocery lady and pulling her shoulders back for her. I've been working on my full wheel. I started barely being able to get up...and now I can mostly straighten my arms...I actually think it is great to take pics of yourself doing yoga. I did that with a friend once and then realized just how much more work my form needs!

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    1. I feel the same about my yoga selfies...I had no clue what I looked like in my poses until I started taking pictures! Gave me a wake up call.

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  32. I try to really work hard on my posture, but my lower back isn't the greatest so back bends tend to hurt! Great poses!

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    1. Then you just have to modify the poses. Yoga should never hurt.

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  33. Although I am still basically new to yoga, I love camel pose. I love all the backward bending. I am a victim of having a desk job. Now I am going to chiro to fix my hunched body (among other things). Great photos!

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    1. I'm lucky that at my job, I don't spend a lot of time sitting. But we all sit over a computer, right?

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  34. I love the stretch of a backbend, but I can't usually get into a full one with out blocks. And camel always sends my calves into spasm.

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    1. That sounds kind of painful! Have you tried changing your foot position? Instead of feet flat, how about toes down? Or using bricks?

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  35. Love this Wendy. So true about good posture! I always feel better when I am standing tall. Same with running - when I have good posture, I can run faster :) I am in awe of anyone that can do camel pose. I need to work on that... :)

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    1. That is such a tough pose. I captured that picture after a class of shoulder openers. I haven't gotten that deep into camel in a long time. Felt fantastic!

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  36. I love wild thing and cobra feels so good. Keeping the heart open metaphorically and physically.

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  37. The first thing I thought of when I read this was of being a kid. I used to do backbends all the time...and head stands, hand stands, skin the cats (do you know?)etc. I think I need to feel like a kid again.

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    1. I don't know about skin the cats. Sounds painful! But yes, these do make me feel like a kid again and I love it.

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  38. Whoops all hunched as I read this. I may need to do more back work.

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  39. I did do cobra today after my bike ride :) It made some stuff pop lol I tried camel (love those colors, BTW) and something seized in my hamstring so I bagged it, it is harder than one would think! I am going to work on back bend my next gym session and see what happens :)

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    1. Use bricks under your hands for camel until you open up--then you can go deeper. That pose is deceptively hard!

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  40. I am just now getting into the magic of backbends and I'm loving it so far! I've got a long way to go but they do feel really good, even when I can only go a small amount into them.

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    1. Just that simple act of opening your heart feels so good!

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  41. I love a good heart opening pose! My lower back is so stiff that some of them really test me, but I love that shoulders back and heart open feeling. Your poses are beautiful.

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  42. I have to check those instagram challenges! My favourite pose ever is the wheel pose. Camel would be second place.

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  43. Interesting. I felt the same way (sometimes still do) about going in/out of wheel pose. I got a Limitless Wheel at Christmas and it helps open my chest but that anxious feeling still remains.

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    1. I've never heard of a limitless wheel! What is it? I'll have to check it out!

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  44. We send so many signals with our posture and body language. I think it really affects how people interact with us, which in turn further affects our mood. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Yep, the shoulders back definitely project an air of confidence!

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  45. omg chaturanga is so hard for me! But working on it. So I actually read not to do back bends if you have lordosis (which I believe I might have) or lower back issues...what do you think?

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    1. I think that you have to modify the backbends to accommodate your back issues. You should consult a certified yoga teacher to confirm.

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  46. After I read this post last night, I actually did a cobra pose first thing this morning to take in a few good breaths before starting my day. Thanks for the reminder! I grew up with horrible posture with my mom reminding me constantly to stand up straight. It has improved but still needs work.

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    1. Yesterday at work, I was thinking about this post and did a standing backbend (like the one I show in mountain pose), just to stretch the muscles and open my shoulders. The tension just melted away!

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  47. Thank you, Wendy, for such great information! I LOVE your take on this week's Wednesday Word - heart!

    Thanks for linking up!

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    1. I really enjoyed this one...fit right in with the sweatpink yoga challenge!

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