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Yoga Backbends Library

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Updated June 28, 2014

Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana

Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana

© Ann Pizer
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana

Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana

© Ann Pizer
Camel Pose - Ustrasana

Camel Pose - Ustrasana

© Ann Pizer

Your spinal column is one of your body's most important, complicated, and vulnerable structures. The system of bones and soft discs is particularly susceptible to injury and deterioration, particularly in people who spend long hours sitting at desks or driving. A consistent yoga practice that includes poses for spinal extension can help maintain the health of your spine. Fortunately, there are backbends that are appropriate for yoga students at all levels of practice. 

 

Beginners

Pelvic Tilts
This nice, gentle rocking of the pelvic bowl is the perfect place to begin your exploration into backbending. These can be done lying down or standing against the wall and are extremely therapeutic. 

Cat-Cow Stretch
Like the pelvic tilt, above, in the cat-cow stretch you move between spinal flexion and extension, rounding the spine and then arching your back. 

Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
One of the hardest things to do it bridge pose is relax your butt. If you can manage it, it will free up your tailbone and allow you to lift your hips a bit higher. A supported bridge, with a block under your sacrum, is also an option for a more passive stretch. 

Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
In low cobra, the idea is to lift your chest without using your arm strength. Once your lift up, try hovering your palms off the floor while maintaining your height. I like to do three cobras in a row, rising up on an inhale and releasing your forehead to the floor on an exhale. 

Knees, Chest, and Chin - Ashtanga Namaskara
When doing sun salutations, incorporate knees, chest, and chin into your first few vinyasas to begin to warm up your back. 

Sphinx Pose
A great pose to counteract certain kinds of low back pain. Make sure to keep your shoulders from hunching up by pressing your forearms down into the floor. 

Intermediate

Bow Pose - Dhanurasana
Spreading a blanket over your mat before doing this pose can make a big difference since otherwise it can put painful pressure on your hip points. Bow is a great way to open the chest and is a good backbend for people with wrist pain since there is no pressure on the wrists.

Camel Pose - Ustrasana
Try camel with the fronts of your thighs touching a wall. Keep contact with the wall as you lean backward. Use a blanket under your knees if they are sensitive.

Fish Pose - Matsyasana
Fish is often done as a counter pose to shoulderstand. Puff up your chest and let your head hang back with just the very top of your crown touching the floor. 

King Dancer Pose - Natarajasana
One of the hallmarks of intermediate level poses is that they begin to require a combination of different techniques. In this case, it's a standing balance and a backbend. There is also a more advanced version of this pose that takes the backbend even deeper.

Locust Pose - Shalabasana
There are a few different versions of this pose that you can try. The feet can be up or down and the arms can be interlaced behind your back, out to the side or even in front like Superman. Whatever variation you go for, remember to keep the pelvis firmly anchored to the floor.

Reverse Warrior
As you take your upper body back, keep the front knee deeply bent, just as you would in a warrior II posture. 

Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Muhka Svanasana
Be aware of your shoulder position in upward dog. Since this is often a transitional pose, there is a tendency to let it get a little sloppy. Keep the shoulders from creeping up toward your ears,

Advanced

Full Pigeon
Open hips, back, and shoulders all play a part in the full version of pigeon pose. A strap is handy for connecting your hands to your back foot as you work up to this posture.

Little Thunderbolt
If camel isn't doing quite enough for you, this posture take it a step (or two) further as your head comes all the way to your feet.

Wheel Pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana
Wheel is often taught to intermediate students, but there is a lot going on here that makes this pose pretty advanced. To make sure your alignment stays on target, first push up to rest on the crown of your head. From here, you can take a moment to realign your arms by bringing the elbows back to a parallel position before continuing to push up into the full pose.

Related Video
Locust Pose
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