If you’ve ever experienced emotional or physical difficulty while backbending in your daily yoga practice, you are not alone. Backbends can challenge us in many ways but are an important addition to any practice. While practicing yoga backbends, you may experience emotional and physical difficulty. Understanding what is happening in both the mind and the body as you practice them can help you be prepared and more accepting of the process. Let’s look at why yoga backbends challenge us both emotionally and physically and understand why we should practice them anyway.

The Emotional Side of Yoga Backbends

Backbends activate the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our “fight-or-flight” stress response. In the same way that we might feel tense in a dangerous situation, we can experience the same feelings in yoga backbends. This feeling is heightened by the fact that backbends are one of the most vulnerable positions we can be in. Our hearts and front body are completely exposed. Our stress response of wanting to protect ourselves and the vulnerability of being open can feel uncomfortable at times.

The vulnerability that we experience in backbends can also lead to a release of stored emotions. We all know what it feels like to have challenging emotions build up over time, and while it can feel good to finally release them, it can also feel overwhelming and uncomfortable as we allow them to move through our bodies.

Despite these challenges, the heart-opening benefits of yoga backbends offer us a profound way to open ourselves to our emotions. Backbends provide a range of motion that we don’t typically experience in our day-to-day lives. As we practice new ways of moving in backbend poses, we can also tap into new ways of processing emotions such as:

  • Stimulating the heart chakra by exposing and opening the heart as we bend — allowing us to open more fully to our emotions, experiences, and relationships.
  • Releasing stored emotions such as frustration, fear, anger, sadness, joy, and love — helping to relieve the stress of holding onto them.
  • Challenging our physical and emotional limits — helping us to break through insecurity and fear.

The Physical Side of Yoga Backbends

One of the most basic physical challenges of backbends is that most of our day-to-day activities involve bending forward: making the bed, looking at phone screens, typing, washing dishes, and more. The physical practice of bending backwards is a movement that we are not accustomed to and it challenges our body in a brand-new way.

The activation of the sympathetic nervous system in backbends also affects our physical body. The fight-or-flight response that can make us feel fearful and tense also comes with physical changes. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol cause our blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels to rise. These biological responses normally help us deal with dangerous situations by sending more energy, blood, and oxygen to the large muscles in case we need to run from or fight a threat. In a backbend, they may cause us to leave the pose quickly in order to calm down.

If we are able to safely work through these physical signals, we can experience the energizing and invigorating nature of backbends. The same fight-or-flight responses that feel physically stressful also prepare the body for action. This makes backbends a good way to add a boost of energy to your day. Some other physical benefits of backbends include:

  • Opening your shoulders and chest, where we store a lot of tension.
  • Stretching your hip flexors and increasing strength and power in your legs, arms, and back muscles.
  • Increasing mobility and awareness in your spine, helping to counteract the damage of bad posture.
  • Realigning your spine and relieving back pain.

Even though yoga backbends come with challenges, the possibilities they provide for our emotional and physical growth are worth exploring.

For space to safely learn the benefits of backbends, try Talia Sutra’s The Method: Backbending online yoga series and take notice of everything that comes up for you along the way. There are lessons in all of it.

Cindy Duke

Cindy is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two pets. After completing her undergraduate studies in English education at Chico State University, and her graduate studies in middle level education at Walden University, she spent eleven years as a middle school English teacher and instructional coach. When she began to struggle with her physical and mental health, she became passionate about learning how to take care of her body and mind. Eight years since starting that journey, she has studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, become certified in both PiYo and CIZE formats, left the teaching profession, pursued her dream of writing, and developed a deep love of yoga. When she’s not reading, writing, cooking, or watching the San Francisco Giants play, you can find her rolling out her mat to practice her favorite style of yoga: yin.

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