What is the ideal yoga back flexion

Yoga Exercises: All About Heart Opening Back Bends

Some of my students flinch at the mention of back bends. In particular, advanced asanas such as Rad or Scorpio often lead to reactions such as “I can never do this!”, “It must hurt!” Or “I won't even try!” When they first see them. Interestingly enough, many people also make statements like this in everyday situations. Do you know that about yourself? Then read on, because bending back helps with these fears - both physically and mentally.

To reassure you: You don't have to do extreme asanas to experience the effects of backbends on body and mind! Simple positions such as the dog looking up or the grasshopper, which even beginners can practice, are sufficient. Important (as with everything in life): In order to avoid injuries, correct execution as well as patience and respect for one's own limits are necessary.

Backbending in Yoga: Physical Effects

Anatomically, the effects of back bends are simply explained: The thoracic spine is stretched backwards so that the chest is expanded and the lungs and heart area stretched. The back muscles are strengthened, the front of the body, in particular chest and abdominal muscles, intercostal muscles, groins and the front thigh muscles stretch. Overall, the thoracic spine becomes more flexible and the torso more supple.

The digestive system is stretched, which can help relieve symptoms such as heartburn or indigestion. By stretching the entire auxiliary respiratory muscles, regular practice of back bends deepens the breath and increases the quality of the breath. This increases the oxygen supply to the body, which has an energizing and rejuvenating effect on body and mind. Cell metabolism increases and concentration improves.

Backbends also stimulate the thymus. It sits behind the breastbone and, to put it simply, controls the immune system in the human system by “training” the important T lymphocytes (white blood cells) here.

In summary: back bends make you physically fitter, younger and healthier. I will explain to you in a moment how they can even make you happier ...


Who will benefit most from back bends?

There are several reasons for physical difficulty in the areas affected by back bends. Far ahead: desk work. Most people who work full-time in office work sooner or later have to deal with shoulder and / or back problems, which in turn affect different areas of the body. Maybe you know that yourself after many hours on the computer: The shoulders feel rounded and sometimes even look like it. The hunched back (med. Hyperkyphosis) is widespread and, due to compression of the thoracic vertebrae, not only leads to restriction of breathing with reduced vital capacity of the lungs, but also to cardiovascular problems and gastrointestinal mobility disorders. Incidentally, the hunched back increases with age, the fastest between the ages of 50 and 60 - which is why hyperkyphosis has been proven to lead to higher mortality. By practicing back bends, the unhealthy posture at the keyboard can be counteracted. So yogis have the chance to stay upright and healthy into old age!

You can also train yourself to complaints in some sports. That's right: For example, one-sided training of the chest muscles (often, for example, in men who “pump” with weights in the gym) leads to a compression of the chest - with the same consequences as mentioned above. Bending back as a countermovement after certain training sessions can help here.

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Yoga against "smartphone bumps": bike and co. Help

I find the phenomenon of the "widow's hump" frightening - a curvature of the neck vertebrae that used to be seen only in older women aged 70+. Recently, there are more and more young people with crooked necks. You can guess why ?! A little tip: This serious misalignment is now referred to as "iHunch" in the USA. Yes: Nowadays there is a “smartphone hump” due to the unnatural posture of the neck of telephone junkies. Bending back can also help here. My tip, however, would be: put your smartphone away and look ahead. This is also good for interpersonal interaction, which is stunted by constant staring at the screen.

Psychological Effects of Back Bending: Open Your Heart

That brings us straight to the emotional effects of back bends. Hardly any other asana group helps so much with topics that affect the heart. And don't we all have heartbreak sometimes? If we are not feeling well emotionally because we are heartbroken, for example, there is sometimes even talk of a "broken heart". In fact, intense grief makes itself felt physically - often through sharp pain in the heart area.

In such phases we lose our "openness", not only mentally but also physically. Watch your breath in particularly sad or stressful situations. It is very likely that it does not flow deeply and calmly, but rather is hectic, superficial or "falters" because the heart cavity is blocked. Our heart chakra is disturbed by emotional trauma. Bending back can help here. By physically opening the chest, deep breathing and letting go become possible - our “heart opens”. That is why backbends are also called heart openers. The increased oxygen supply gives you new strength, not only physically but also mentally. The hardening that has taken place through mental injury and is ultimately a protective mechanism can soften again.

So it is actually possible to move through negative emotions faster by practicing back bends. Please don't get me wrong: It's not about not allowing or suppressing these feelings. It makes little sense to carry them around unnecessarily long, because it is well known that it is better to travel with light luggage!

The effect and execution of 4 classic back bends

All backbends have in common that they strengthen the back, relieve tension in the shoulder and neck area and support the breathing system. However, individual back bends can even alleviate diseases such as asthma and other respiratory problems, rheumatism, diabetes or even menstrual cramps. In addition, a number of back bends stimulate detoxification and fat burning. In the following I present four back bends in detail (excerpt from Kerstin Linnartz “All about yoga”).

1. Bhujangasana, the cobra

Physically it's pretty obvious why the position Bhujangasana is called the Sanskrit termbhujanga namely means cobra. In this position, the yogi is reminiscent of a cobra standing up. The physical effect is also easy to see from the outside: we bend back and the spine is activated. A strong, healthy spine has a number of positive effects. But the mental effect that is attributed to the cobra is also exciting. And then the Indians use mythology again: Shiva, the one as the one Mahayogi (the chief of all yogis) is often depicted in the company of a cobra. The symbolism behind it: The snake stands for fear, danger and death. The fact that Shiva Sitting relaxed, turned inward, meditating with half-closed eyes, shows that he has overcome this fear. He no longer fears death.

There is a similar story about Buddha: When Buddha meditated one day under a sacred Bodhi tree, he radiated deep calm and self-assurance. This soothing silence attracted cobras, and they gathered near him. Buddha was deep in meditation, felt the proximity of the cobras, and yet he was not afraid of them. The cobras also enjoyed the peace and quiet. The story quickly got around and people came to watch the spectacle. Fearing the cobras, they kept a safe distance. Suddenly it started to rain and people were afraid for the meditating Buddha. But none of the residents dared to go near him, the fear of the snakes was too great. The king of the cobras snaked his way up to Buddha from behind and straightened his whole body. Then he spread his neck and offered Buddha a large umbrella to protect him from the rain. Unaffected by the rain, Buddha continued his meditation. The audience was surprised by the generosity of the cobras and deeply impressed by the meditating Buddha.

Both stories show that if you just look at them from a calm, serene perspective, our fears can be overcome. Then even death loses its horror, which is the greatest fear for many people. Meditation can give us this serenity. And Bhujangasana strengthens our back so that we can sit still undisturbed for mediation.

Execution of the cobra

Effect of Bhujangasana

The main effect here is of course to strengthen the back. You will often notice how important a strong back is at your desk or when you are carrying your child around. But a strong back is also necessary in meditation: As long as there is pinching in the spine, your mind is distracted and the deep peace that we achieve through meditation and that everyone is always talking about will remain hidden from you. That is why the cobra is so important. The good news: It's really easy to practice!

The outer and deeper back muscles are strengthened in this position, which helps us walk and sit upright. The spine is given flexibility and a wonderful back bend. The vertebrae are pulled apart at the front and the intervertebral discs are supplied with blood. Spinal misalignments can be improved. The cobra helps against round shoulders and lumbago. The abdominal muscles are tensed and thereby strengthened. The pressure reduces unwanted cushions on the abdomen and hips. The pressure inside the abdomen increases so that constipation goes away. All abdominal organs, especially the ovaries and uterus, are strengthened. Menstrual cramps are relieved. Stretching the chest strengthens the chest and neck. Asthma and other respiratory diseases can be combated with regular exercise. As we have just learned, Bhujangasana can work on more than just the physical level. If I recall these effects while practicing, they will be amplified.

  • Move; Invigoration
  • erection
  • Lower abdomen: menstrual cramps
  • Spine: flexibility, intervertebral discs
  • Chest: opening, airways
  • Effect: energizing, strengthening

2. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the shoulder bridge

"Bridge over troubled water" is the title of a song that originally came from Simon & Garfunkel and has been covered by countless artists. What about the shoulder bridge has to do? Well, the lyrics say, "When you're weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all."

And that's what they say Setu Bandha Sarvangasana nach: This exercise can work wonders for emotional tension and blockages of creativity. A bridge is built from the outside to the inside, so to speak: setu= Bridge, bandha= build / construct. The shoulder bridge is often underestimated as a mere balancing position for shoulder stand and plow. It has clear effects, although its basic attitude is very simple. In India it is highly valued because of its simplicity, and since yoga is sometimes practiced among Indians at a very old age, it is often praised as "Asana that people of all ages can practice".

As with every yoga exercise, however, it depends entirely on your own practice, how demanding an asanaist is, and so even those of you who like to work up a sweat can get the most out of the position with the variations.

Performing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Effect of the shoulder bridge

The shoulder bridge is a relaxing and strengthening exercise at the same time. The shoulder stand stretch is reversed - the neck can relax as the pressure is removed. Depending on the exercise, abdominal and gluteal muscles are trained. The abdomen is stretched. This regulates the liver and spleen, which has a cleansing effect: toxins can be excreted better and fat digested better. This should do some people especially good after an evening of gluttony! The shoulder bridge can also help with digestive problems or gas formation in the abdomen. The flexibility of the wrists can be trained. Shoulders, elbows, knees and hands are also trained. The front of the spine is stretched, opening the chest and heart area. The back is strengthened, the entire spine remains flexible, active and strong with regular practice of this asana. The nervous system is stimulated. The shoulder bridge is even said to help against arthritis.

  • neck
  • Abdominal cavity: liver, spleen
  • Detoxification, fat digestion
  • Spine
  • Chest: opening of the heart
  • Nervous system
  • Effect: strengthening, opening, regulating

3. Dhanurasana, the bow

The arc (dhanu= Bow) combines the effects of the cobra (Bhujangasana) and the grasshopper (Shalabasana). Ideally, these three exercises should be practiced together, as they represent a valuable set of back bends in a pack of three. Although the bow can be viewed as a combination of cobra and grasshopper, it differs significantly from the two exercises: In the first two, the back muscles are active, in the bow passive.

Execution of the bow

The effects of Dhanurasana

The effect of Dhanurasana is clearly energizing - if I am a little weak or tired, I briefly practice the bow in between and then I have fresh energy again, and I can go on. The wonderful thing about yoga is that we can use it anywhere, anytime, and it does exactly what we need. In this way, Dhanurasana can give us new strength again if we have perhaps "overstepped the curve".

One of the gifts that yoga gives us: We recognize faster when we are demanding too much or increase our energy and concentration levels in order to be more ready and able. We recognize things, situations or people that are not good for us in the long run more clearly and “avoid them”. It is exactly the same with old habits - we throw them out of our lives “with a high arc” and with the help of yoga.

The arch has an intense effect on the abdominal area: the abdomen is massaged. This has a positive effect on constipation or indigestion. The entire intestine is activated and the digestive fire is stimulated. Excess fat on the stomach is reduced. Flatulence improves. All abdominal organs get an extra portion of blood, which contributes to activation. The liver and spleen are activated, which helps to remove toxins. Since the pancreas is regulated, the bow is often recommended to people who suffer from diabetes. The adrenal gland is also affected. The increased release of adrenaline has an activating effect. We don't have to worry about an overdose with the bow. The release of cortisone is normalized, which is why Dhanurasan can help against rheumatism in the legs, knees and hands. The abdominal muscles are strengthened. The spine is activated and misalignments of the back improve.

The arch also prevents premature calcification of the vertebrae. It is said that those who regularly practice the "three-pack of backbends" (cobra, grasshopper, bow) have an upright and graceful gait into old age. In fact, in India you see a lot of old people walking very straight.

The arch acts on all parts of the spine: the neck, chest, lumbar and sacrum areas become flexible. The stretching of the chest region has a positive effect on the respiratory system. Asthma can improve. Since the nervous system is activated along with the spine, Dhanurasanauns gives us a kick of freshness.

The Indians even go so far as to say that this extra energy ensures that one “never gets lazy” through the arch. You can feel the better mood right after the exercise. This is related to the effect on the sympathetic nervous system, which meanders along the spine.

The solar plexus (“solar plexus”) is also massaged - a plexus of nerves in the stomach area that yogis refer to as the “battery” of our system. Women benefit from the fact that menstrual cramps go away and the female reproductive organs are improved.

The back muscles are massaged. People with herniated discs have experienced improvement through the gentle practice of Dhanurasana.

  • belly
  • Bowel: constipation, digestive fire
  • Organs: liver, spleen, pancreas
  • Detox, diabetes
  • Mentoring complaints
  • Spine: intervertebral discs
  • Nervous system: activation
  • Effect: energizing

be better YOGA: Kerstin Linnartz explains the arc


Bow (Dhanurasana)

be better YOGA: Kerstin Linnartz explains the arc


Bow (dhanurasada)

4. Matsyasana, the fish

There are two stories about fish. For one thing, Matsyasana has (matsya= Fish) got its name from the fact that in this position one can float in the water without sinking. With the classic “board”, only the face just looks out so that you can breathe. A fish would have to have rough seas to submerge. I've tried it in the ocean many times - it's really fun! For this "floating feeling" you start from the lotus position in the classic position. Only this position guarantees that you will stay on the surface of the water. But don't worry: because people in the West usually find the lotus position more difficult than Indians, there is also the simpler variant with straight legs.

The Hindhus see Matsyasana as a homage to Vishnu, the preserver of the universe and all things in it. There is also a story about the Hindhu god Vishnuin his incarnation as a fish: There was once a time when the whole world had become corrupt. As a punishment, a huge flood was supposed to wash away everything. Vishnu took on the shape of a fish and warned Manu (the Adam of the Hindhus) of the catastrophe. The fish packed Manu, his family and the seven saints into a ship, carried it through the waves on his horn and thus saved their lives.

The execution of the fish

The effects of Matsyasana

Above all, the fish expands, namely the chest. The back bend in the thoracic area causes the ribs to widen, and the lungs literally get more air to breathe. In many people, especially those who sit a lot or do not get enough exercise due to work, the chest area is narrowed. This has to do with the ribs, which are no longer at the correct angle to the spine, but in an inclined position. As a result, the lung capacity is limited and the entire organism does not receive enough oxygen. This in turn means that we are not as fit as we could actually be. I guarantee: If you practice fish at least twice a day for six weeks, your lung capacity will have increased significantly. The uptake of oxygen increases with the capacity of the lungs, since this is directly related to our vitality, you will find that you are generally better and have more energy.

A tight chest is often seen through a hunched back, especially at shoulder blade level. Matsyasana forms the thorax and can straighten the back again, which is why many yogis walk beautifully and upright - no trace of round shoulders!

Due to the positive effect the fish has on the respiratory system, it is said that it has beneficial effects on asthma: The muscles around the bronchi are loosened and allow more free breathing. The muscles around the spine are activated and receive an extra portion of blood. This has a positive and energizing effect on the nervous system, which also makes you fitter. Stretching the abdominal area is great for the abdominal organs: the liver and spleen benefit from the exercise. Matsyasana is particularly popular with the sexual organs: the pelvic organs are stimulated - in women, the exercise has a positive effect on the ovaries, and in the case of hemorrhoids it is said to have a relieving effect. If you practice the fish in the classic position with the lotus position, the blood that normally flows into the legs is directed into the abdomen by pressing the thighs together: In men, the increased blood flow to the testicles is said to have an extremely invigorating effect. The classic position also makes the entire hip nice and supple.

  • Chest: lung volume, asthma
  • Shoulders: straightening
  • Spine: nervous system
  • Abdominal cavity: liver, spleen
  • Pelvis: genital organs
  • Effect: uplifting, energizing

Kerstin Linnartz is a yoga teacher, author and presenter. In 2005 she decided to take a break from the hectic media world and traveled to India, where she studied the background of the science of yoga and founded and ran a yoga resort. The love for yoga, which she has been practicing for over 20 years, led to the founding of her company in 2010be better, with which she now offers yoga trips, training courses and business seminars worldwide.