Backbends are in many ways the opposite of much of what we do all day. In yoga there is the concept of balance of opposites. Sukha/Stira (hard/soft), ying/yang, warming/cooling, strength/flexibility. We are constantly being pulled on by gravity, so most of the time we are getting pulled forward and down. Backbending is the opposite of this. Backbending is about resisting that action by expanding, extending, and lengthening.
The spine is designed to flex and extend, but most of the time it is in flexion (think slouching!). To me, a better term for this focus is “back extension” rather than “bending.” We will work the core to create warmth and strength, and put the body in various relationships to gravity. Different muscles are used in belly-down backbends than standing for example.
On an energetic level, backbends represent fearlessness. Diving back into the great unknown. They also represent trust and openess. They are said to stimulate the nervous system and energize the body. The trick to doing backbends correctly is to not allow all of the energy to splay outward. It forward bends (the traditional counterpose to backbends), we close the front of the body and create a contained energy system. Backbends do the opposite, they require us to really be able to control and stabilize our energy. This means having a good sense of the locks, breath, and drishti, as well as stong core and center-line muscles to keep the spine stable as it expands and extends. Let’s hope we all build a little more confidence, skill, and get better posture, as well as have some fun! Hope to see you on the mat.