Photographed by Luciana Pampalone
Yogamama: The Benefits of a Good Back-Bend
Working on your upward-facing bow doesn’t just strengthen your core — it helps you digest your lunch.
By Karri Jinkins
On most days that I teach a lunchtime yoga class, a chorus of grumbling bellies (including my own) announce their displeasure. As it turns out, there’s a pose for that. To aid digestion and help relieve gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, the hands-down best pose would be the urdvha danurasana, or upward-facing bow. And the benefits of back-bending don’t stop there: the pose also stimulates the nervous system, thymus gland, and hormone production.
When practicing back-bending we are literally turning our insides out. We stretch the entire front of the body, which includes the muscles of the abdominal region that support and protect the digestive tract, and engage the core muscles that help stabilize the pelvic region. Hopefully while in the urdvha danurasana we are also practicing deep therapeutic breathing, which helps create heat that can further stimulate the metabolism. Here are a few simple steps to get you started.
1. Be sure your muscles have been warmed up with other poses before attempting a back-bend.
2. Lie on your back and take a few deep and relaxing breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. When you’re ready, position your feet about hip-distance apart and sink through your knees to the point that your heels are very close to your hips.
3. Next, raise your arms up and back and place the palms of your hands on the floor near or under your shoulders.
4. As you inhale, lift your hips off the floor (if you happen to be a beginner, feel free to stay right there and breathe, working on pressing your feet against the floor while using your core muscles to lift your hips and chest so that you roll up onto your shoulders).
5. If you’re more advanced and want to go deeper, use your arms to raise your shoulders until you can gently rest the top of your head on the floor. From here, again, as you inhale, begin to straighten your arms and lift your chest toward the ceiling until you are in a full arch. It is essential to breathe at this point and engage the core muscles, or as we call them in yoga, your “bandhas.”
6. Exit this pose slowly. First, lower the top of your head back to the floor, then tuck your chin toward your chest so you can slowly lower yourself onto your shoulders. Gradually the entire spine can return to rest on the floor.
7. After back-bending, a forward bend is a great counterbalance, but before you sit up and do that, draw your knees to your chest as you lie on your back. This will help release some of the back muscles that were contracted while executing the urdvha danurasana.
Karri Jinkins’ archetypes are Spiritual, Caregiver, and Athlete. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, she is a writer, has taught Ashtanga yoga and meditation for over 15 years, and is the cofounder of Yogamat Clothing, an eco-friendly, sweatshop-free line of activewear made in the USA. Jinkins enjoys many things other than yoga, not all of which are necessarily good for you. Contact her at: [email protected] or find her on twitter @karrijinkins.