Backbends are often one of the greatest challenges for Yoga students, beginner and advanced alike.
the spine is a unique structure within the skeleton, a multifaceted network of vertebrae with connections throughout the core (between the skull and the femur/thigh bone) housing our central nervous system, providing support to the torso and stability for the movement of the limbs.
But the spine is also malleable, and with dedication can become flexible in each direction through poses with different objectives. While it is tempting to simply push yourself through progressively deeper backbends the connections between the vertebrae are short and due to the lifestyle of most modern students, also fairly inflexible. Beyond the spine itself we have multiple larger structural muscles (such as the Psoas muscle, involved in flexion of the hip).
Ligaments connect the skull and pelvis/sacrum, and the individual vertebrae, making them in part responsible for restricted range of motion: ligaments are less adaptable than muscle tissue and do not stretch as easily. These connective tissues may not contribute to backbends but by the nature of their structure and function inhibit movement of the vertebrae relative to one another.
One way to lessen fear around any subject is to study it: we fear that which we don’t understand, so knowing the basic anatomy of a backbend is a way to conquer your mistrust of your own body and expand your capabilities.
The spine is of course the predominant feature of any true backbend, but the shoulders, hips and knees may contribute to the backbend depending on the pose. being able to recognise how a backbend works leads us to understand that we can work to increase mobility beyond the spine for deeper backbends.
Breaking down the pose into its component parts helps us to understand where our limitations hold within the body, and give us clear direction as to how to improve backbends rather than simply repeating backbend poses and hoping for change.