The second abdominal engagement - engage the back, relax the front - is the opposite of the first.
To bend the spine backward like in Cobra, Camel or the Back Sit-up (pictured above), the muscles on the back of the body must engage and shorten. These largely include the erectors of the spine, which are aided by pulling the shoulder blades together (trapezius and rhomboids). Pulling the shoulder blades together especially helps to stretch the chest and shoulders which are commonly tight from using computers and hunching forward as much as we do.
THE HARD PART
The muscles of the front must be completely relaxed. Believe it or not, this is actually the hard part of backward bending. The abdominal muscles, namely the rectus abdominis (6-pack) needs to relax to let the spine bend backward. If it is tight or engaged, backbending will be difficult or even detrimental.
THE GLUTES & PELVIS
Any backbend that is done lying on the belly (like the one pictured above) benefits from engaged glutes (butt muscles) to stabilize the pelvis and release the psoas, enabling the spine to bend completely. It feels like reaching back strongly through the feet. On the other hand, any backbend that is done upright like the Standing Backbend (Half Moon) or Camel, should have soft glutes until you've come into the depth of the posture. If you engage the glutes from the start to push the hips forward, your abdominal muscles will probably engage too, and this will prevent your spine from bending.
This type of muscular action encompasses (starting top left) Salute to the Gods & Goddesses, Half Moon, Standing Bow, Separate Arms Balancing Stick, Dancer (variation), Camel, Cobra, Full Locust, Bow, Wheel, and full backbends like Full Cobra & Pigeon.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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- The 113 Postures of Ghosh Yoga