When we think of  ‘backbending’ in yoga, images of gymnasts, or circus performers touching the back of their head with their feet, in an impossible contortion, comes to mind. Thanks so much Instagram!

If we see someone in the famous wheel pose (Chakrasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana depending on what yoga tradition you follow), some people may think, ‘I used to do that as a child (full disclosure, I didn’t), but now I’d break my back, so I can’t do yoga’.

One thing is true in  statement – you could cause injury to your body. So, why chase poses like that? There is no need whatsoever in order to do yoga! Because yes, you can do yoga, regardless of your spine flexibility.

You can do yoga and practice safe backbends, even with tight back muscles – when you do it the right way for you and your body.

What many don’t realise is that backbending as much about the front of the body as the back. Perhaps it’s with that in mind you should attempt them.

Backbendings are chest openers; they stretch the hip flexors and help open up the shoulders and chest. They are invigorating and strengthening, building power in your legs, arms and back.

They increase mobility and awareness of the spine, improving posture.

Ustrasana is a traditional backbend

Montse Gili in Sefton Park, photo by Hannah Cockett

Backbends take courage; opening the front of the body psychologically equals to exposing ourselves to the world and the more we cultivate that on the mat, the more courage we build up off the mat.

So, should we do them or not? The good news is that we don’t need a big, flashy, contortionist-level backbend to reap all those benefits! We just need careful, measured and mindful movements, appropriate to where our bodies are now, today.

Start where you are now. Start with gentle chest openers, or with an easy cobra (Bhujangasana is still one of my favourite back bends)

Test, try, listen to your body and don’t push trying to achieve a particular shape that it’s not healthy for you right now (or maybe never).

Going slowly through the practice will benefit your body more than trying to accomplish any given pose and without realising you will get stronger, more flexible and hopefully more resilient and courageous on and off the mat.