Backbends in yoga are considered heart openers. On a day-to-day basis, we can find our body postures in a constant state of "forward folds." Think about it: sitting down at desk hunched over a computer, cycling, weeding the garden, or other body positions like this are all "heart closers." Doing heart opening postures not only can improve your posture, but they can have an emotional benefit as well.
Think for a moment about your life experiences in the recent past. Have you ever felt sad or depressed? just got dumped by your significant other? got ripped off on a financial deal? All of these situations can bring a sense of hurt, violation, or betrayal. All of these can be very challenging emotional situations to manage. After experiencing such events, it may be difficult to trust; your heart may even feel broken. These may create a "closing of the heart." As a means to help mend your heart from that sense of betrayal, yoga backbends may help you to re-open your heart and teach you to trust again.
This home practice will describe Urdhva Dhanurasana (which literally translates to upward facing bow). This pose is commonly called Wheel Pose; it is a full backbend. If you are new to this pose, a Bridge Pose is a good alternative.
Start by lying on your yoga mat on your back. Bend your knees so you feet are flat on the floor. Be sure your heels are relatively close to your back side and your knees and feet are hip distance apart. This will give you a strong foundation when you rise into the backbend. This sense of connection to the earth is actually a good starting point for the mending heart. You want to feel safe and secure before you move forward in being able to trust again.
Next, place your hands up by your shoulders. Your fingertips should be pointing toward your shoulders with your hands pressing firmly into the floor. To help get the hands secure on the mat, squeeze your elbows together toward your head. It is important to have your fingertips point TOWARD your shoulders rather than have your hands and finders UNDER your shoulders. If your hands are underneath your shoulders, you will not have the best alignment and strength to lift yourself up into the backbend. With you fingertips pointing toward your shoulders, your elbows will be directly over your wrists creating a right angle. This will give you better leverage to rise into your posture. Again, you want to have a strong foundation before you rise into this dynamic pose.
Your core body must also feel secure before rising into the Wheel Pose. As you lie on your back, begin an intentional breathing practice. When you inhale, arch your back. Your bottom will remain on the floor while your low back lifts away from the floor. When you exhale, strongly press your low back into the yoga mat. Your navel will move closer to your spine and your pelvis will naturally tilt to engage your low abdominal muscles. Hold this posture as you continue breathing. With each exhale, continue to tighten your lower abdominals as a means to support your back when you eventually rise into your backbend. Engaging your core body is another practice of finding strength within yourself when you are faced with challenging life obstacles.
When you feel ready (perhaps after 5-10 breaths) lift your hips toward the sky. You are now in a modified Bridge Pose. Even as you lift your hips toward the ceiling, continue to engage your core body as if you were still lying flat on your mat with your lower back pressed into the earth. This will keep you lower back open and spacious so you don't experience binding or pinching in your lower back muscles and spine. Again, if you are new to this style of pose, feel free to remain here for the rest of your practice.
In this modified posture, check in with your body to be sure your feet are still planting firmly into the floor as well as your hands. When you are ready, press your hands deeply into the ground in order to lift your head off the floor. Let the very top of your head rest lightly on the mat. This is another variation on the pose. On your next exhale, press your hands firmly into the mat so you can lift entirely off the floor. You are now in a full backbend. Hold for at least 5 breaths and up to 10. Root your feet and hands firmly into the earth: feel grounded and connected. Allow your heart to expand and open. Be mindful of all the love that IS in the world and absorb that gift: you truly deserve it.
When you are ready to come down, tuck your chin in toward your neck. Lower yourself slowly so that you land softly on the back of your shoulders. Proceed to come all the way down to the floor and lie in Savasana for at least 20 breaths. As you are in your relaxation posture, think about ways you can continue filling your heart with love, gratitude, and appreciation.