Tag Archives: Backbends

backbends: why and when to squeeze your glutes

locustpose1

First, let’s acknowledge that different students may benefit from slightly different actions in any given posture. So, the most accurate way to answer this question is to suggest most students will benefit from engaging their glutes in most backbends. Here’s why:

The gluteal family is composed of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. When the glutes and hamstrings engage—particularly the lower fibers of the gluteal msucles near the hamstring insertion—they extend the hip-joint. This motion initiates all backbends and helps keep the pelvis and spine congruous. Gluteal engagement also helps fire the paraspinal muscles and stabilizes the sacro-illiac joint—both of which facilitate pelvic and spinal balance in backbends.

But, let’s answer the question with a little more nuance since some backbends are enhanced by gluteal engagement and others are not. Prone backbends like Locust Pose and Cobra Pose probably don’t benefit as much from gluteal contraction because the weight of the pelvis rests on the floor during these postures. This means that you don’t need gluteal strength to lift the pelvis because it’s not moving in the posture; you also don’t need the stabilization that the glutes provide because the pelvis is supported by the floor.

In kneeling backbends like Camel Pose and supine backbends like Bridge Pose and Upward Bow Pose, gluteal engagement is more helpful. These postures produce a greater degree of spinal extension so it’s even more important that the pelvis and spine move cohesively. Engaging the glutes, particularly the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus near the hamstring insertion, will help maintain this balance rotating the pelvis slightly back over the top of the legs. This will help reduce lumbar compression—the feeling of your lower-back “crunching.” Even more, the glutes help lift the weight of the pelvis in supine backbends. If you don’t use the glutes in these postures, it’s more likely that you will unnecessarily burden less efficient muscle groups.

Some teachers and students are concerned that using the glutes will make the knees splay too far apart. This is a legitimate concern, but it’s easily managed. All you have to do in this situation is co-contract the muscles that line the inside of your thighs, the adductors. Firing the adductors while you engage the glutes will keep your thighs nice and neutral.

Excerpt from YogaGlo Article Backbends: Why and When to Squeeze Your Glutes by Jason Crandell


the compassionate backbend

Image

In backbends, we come face-to-face with the boundaries of our flexibility, patience, and equanimity. But learning to practice with our limitations—instead of struggling against them—can make backbending an exercise in self-acceptance.

Most of us come to yoga seeking sanctuary. We realize how important it is to briefly step away from the demands of life and relax into a spacious quality of mind that allows us to be with ourselves as we are, without judgment. Insulated from the racket of demands and from the need to rush, we become quiet enough to hear the stirrings of our hearts. And in the act of accepting whatever we find there, we replenish our energy and inspiration. Accepting the truth of our selves, our hearts, our muscles, our level of energy in any given moment is the height of compassion, and practiced this way, yoga becomes an exercise in equanimity.

How is it, then, that so many of us quickly abandon these ideals when we practice backbends? If we’re not paying close attention, the acceptance and lovingkindness we were working with in other poses suddenly dissipates. Any practice of the yamas and niyamas, those attitudes and behaviors that epitomize the spirit of yoga, falls away. We grasp for a deeper opening, greedy for the glory of a perfect pose. We refuse to surrender to our own body’s wisdom.

Using the breath to control the depth and apex of a backbend offers an interesting encounter with aparigraha, the attitude that’s described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as the ability to accept only what is appropriate. You make a conscious choice not to take all you could, not to move into the fullest backward bend your body can manage, because you see value in holding back; you value the health and integrity of your body more than the glory of a deeper backbend. You value the primary function of the pose—the opening—more than the final shape or form of the posture.

Can you acknowledge your resistance without judging it? Are you able to see weak back muscles as simply that and not as somehow connected to your value as a human being? That might seem easy, but what about when you look at something deeper, such as a protective barrier around the heart chakra? Can you observe that with understanding and equanimity?

But what if you do have the ability to look at yourself closely, compassionately, and with equanimity? Can you then meet your resistance head-on? Well, here’s the interesting thing: A mind trained in equanimity doesn’t push unwanted things away or grasp desired things closer. It honors and accommodates, knowing that such treatment is transformational. Ultimately, it is only in letting go of what you wish you could be, in seeking greater freedom to be who you actually are at any given moment, that the process of your becoming unfolds. Let each arch be an exercise in acceptance and equanimity, an active embrace of the sanctuary that yoga can offer, and a simple acknowledgement of a truth that might just change your whole life.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article: The Compassionate Backbend, by Kate Tremblay