Since this is the month of heart connections, I thought this heart opening pose was a perfect one to highlight. Backbends (like Cobra Pose) help to release emotions held in the rib cage and can help to counteract depression.
Think of the position held when laughing boisterously with your hands on your hips as you throw your head back and open your chest to the sky and you’ll easily understand why backbends help relieve depression! Now think of the position held when you are under stress or fear—hunched shoulders raised toward your ears and curling toward the ribs, head drooping down, shallow breath, clenched teeth and other muscles in the body. You can see why backbends help counteract the physical and emotional effects of stress (chronic fear) on the body.
Backbends open the front of the body, the heart center/heart chakra. This center is your center for love, compassion, and support. When you are feeling love, you have less room to feel the fear. If THAT doesn’t make you want to do more backbends, consider that it is said you are as young as your back is flexible!
Now for the pose:
Resting on your belly, place your hands palm down on the floor by your shoulders next to your chest. Hug your elbows to your sides. Firm your glutes and abs. Using your mid-to-upper back muscles, lift your heart center as you elongate your spine up and away from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Resist the urge to push into your hands. Keep your neck in line with the spine, chin tucked, neck soft. Draw shoulders back and down.
Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.
To resist the urge to push into your hands and overdo your backbend, lift hands off floor to find a comfortable height for your body avoiding strain in the back. The lift should come from the extension of the spine and not from the force of the hands to the floor. (It’s hard to tell in my photo below, but my hands are lifted!)
Those with neck injuries should keep the head neutral by looking down at the floor (not shown.)
- Strengthens upper back (rhomboids)
- Stretches abs, chest / lungs
- Opens your heart energetically (stimulates heart chakra)
- Connects you to the ground stimulating your root chakra
- Relieves stress / fatigue
- Counteracts depression
- Possible benefits for those with sciatica or asthma
- Traditional texts say that this pose increases body heat, destroys disease, and awakens kundalini.
- Back injury
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Sources: YogaJournal.com, Beth Shaw’s YogaFit, second edition.