Backbending Pain Free! - Kathryn Bruni-Young

The theme of my week has been how to avoid lower back pain. From my online course that is currently running, to Facebook questions, I thought I would use this week to dive a bit deeper into how to bend our backs without breaking them.


To begin with, bending backwards and bending forwards have one thing in common. Regardless of which way you are bending your body, the pelvis should be guiding the spine into position. This means if we move into a forward bend the pelvis should tilt forward, or anterior (imagine sticking your bum out), while when we bend backwards, the pelvis should tilt backwards, or posterior (imagine tucking your bum under). In some cases, just having a clear understanding of these two movements during certain yoga poses, like forward bends and upward dog can be enough to take away pain.


Secondly, when we bend backwards, the goal should be to create an evenly arched position, rather than a huge arch in one small area of the spine. When our arch becomes more even through the spine, hips and shoulders the lower back often stops screaming at us. Bridges and upward dog can actually begin to feel good. The biggest questions is how do we get this smooth even arch?


The evenly spread arch comes from mobility within the spine, but also in the hips and shoulders. If the quads and hip flexors are so tight that the pelvis can’t effectively tilt backwards, the lower back is in for a good crunch. Similarly, in over head backbends like wheel, if the shoulders don’t easily move into flexion, the movement is bound to come from the lower back. Mobility can be an issue, but it’s never the full story. Backbends to some extent should move out of the spine and into the limbs.


If our goal is a pain free even arch, we have to make sure all the muscles of the back chain are in good working order. Although the pain might end up in our lower back, the lower back itself is usually not the root of the problem. Certain muscles tend to be weak and under-active in most people, regardless of whether you do yoga, but sometimes amplified in people who do. This includes the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, lats, and traps. Without these essential muscles, backbends can definitely feel painful. If we can get the right muscles working to move the spine into an ideal position, there is no reason to have pain and discomfort in these valuable positions.


This week my social media feed has featured some simple strength exercises to target weak parts of the back chain. This video addresses the lats and lower traps, here is another one to address the hips and pelvic tilt, so you can see what I mean by taking this movement out of the spine and into the limbs.


The last piece of advice I have about making backbends feel good, is to really look at the pose you are trying to do, and ask yourself if you are just simply pushing too deep. The spine is designed for many things, evolutionarily speaking, intense backbends is not one of them. I think cobra, upward dog, bridge and wheel are great movements. Will they all work for everyone? No. Will one backbend work for everyone? Yes. Find what works for you, follow along to get your back chain stronger and maybe stop imagining your feet touching your face.


I hope this has been helpful, if you are curious about other elements of movement practice be it yoga, strength training, mobility or functional movement, send me a note. I’m always interested in helping my community get the info and inspiration they need. For a list of my upcoming workshops and seminars, CLICK HERE. Hope to see you in real life.