Everyone, specifically athletes – runners /cyclists should practice back -bending asanas.
Back bending is not a natural movement – a common argument put forth by many. On the face of it, this argument may seem convincing, especially if you are a grown up. Though I wonder if children would buy into this argument. I doubt if they even think of it before continuously performing there somersault while on the ground or off a railing in the air.
In Yoga, “back bending asanas are called anti-depressive in nature”. When I practice my back bend, I feel as if my spine has rejuvenated and got a new lease of life.
A peek into your daily chores
Take a minute and run your daily chores through your mind. It will not take you long to realize that your day-to-day movements are predominantly forward bending in nature. Whether working on your laptop, using your cellphone, playing video games, picking up some stuff from the floor etc., we use forward bend. Not only are these bends prolonged but also keep our head rigid and out of alignment on a continuous basis.
These everyday practices are ingredients to many health problems like back pain, cervical spondylitis, frozen shoulders, tight shoulders, dropping shoulders, slip disc, sciatica etc. Even kids are not spared. Such activities are working our spine only in one direction thereby leading to muscular imbalance. This is undesirable and will require fixing, for a healthy back.
Our spine is extraordinary in its combination of rigidity and flexibility. Rigidity in the form of vertebrae and flexibility in the form of intervertebral discs that assist in the movement of the back. This duality of rigidity & flexibility can only be maintained and balanced when we do backward bends on a regular basis. It does not mean, however, that we do not need to perform forward bends. We do that unknowingly anyway throughout our life whereas back bend becomes nonexistent especially with ageing.
With age, our discs start drying up, thereby causing stiffness of the back. Yoga has long claimed that all the bending and stretching will make the backbone youthful. Science has examined such declarations and found that yoga can, in fact, counteract the deterioration of the discs that lie between the vertebrae. It is believed that any asana when performed systematically in the form of stretching, bending, twisting, brings sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the discs thereby maintaining their suppleness.
Constant forward bending works against your spinal structure
Constant forward bending causes a collapsing effect from the waist, thereby pushing the vertebrae backward, causing the discs to move back; shortening the front of the spine and straining the back of the spine. This stiffens the frontal region whereas loosens the back region. This happens every single time we bend down for any activity. Backward bending helps align the vertebrae, thereby restoring muscular balance.
In the light of the above, it will not be a bad idea to state that back bending is an unnatural movement to combat an unnatural lifestyle.
Athletes & Back Bend
Athletes like runners and cyclists keep contemplating if they need back bending at all, as most of their movements are forward oriented or that they are running straight on the surface. Here, we need to review our spinal structural again.
Intervertebral discs do the job of absorbing shock. They account for the shape and length of the back. With aging, the disc lubrication decreases. This directly affects their compressibility and expansibility. The end result is reduced flexibility and increased stiffness in our back. In case of runners, they are constantly jumping vertically from one step to the next. This movement causes the disc to compress. In order to preserve the health of the back and the spine, stretching is a must to lengthen the ligaments, which enclose the discs. This lengthening will allow the disc to align itself back into place and help maintain its natural curve.
Tight hip flexor & tight groin are common complaints among cyclists, runners & other athletes. Hip flexor and groin assist backward bend. Since many athletes mostly have tight hip flexor & groin, they find it difficult to perform backward bends compared to non-athletes. Having said that, gradual backward bend practice will stretch the hip flexors – this will not only release the tightness from the localized region but at the same time prevent injuries. As a byproduct of the practice, it will also develop power and strength in the legs, core and back.
In spite of its initial challenges, back bending can be one of the most therapeutic yoga practices. There are tremendous benefits of performing back bends. The pivotal point is, to do it safely, in a systematic manner so that gradual and regular practice takes you towards a rejuvenating experience. Preparing for back bending in itself is a vast topic of discussion. For the time being, it is important to route our thought process in a positive direction and take small steps that will help us achieve the bigger goal.
To understand the difference between backward bend & back bend, different back movements and much more, check my blogs on,
“One needs to tread the path of discomfort to experience the exhilarating calmness of back bending”.
Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.