Beware of the Backward Leaning Forward Bend! This position can and will deceive. We may think this is a backbend, but it is not. Here's why.
What is the Backward Leaning Forward Bend
The Backward Leaning Forward Bend (top photo) is when we lean back, push the hips forward for counter balance, and the spine stays straight. This can feel like we are backward bending, because we are leaning back.
But in this position, the abdominal muscles are engaging to prevent us from falling backward.
The abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis primarily) are the muscles of forward bending. These are opposite to the spinal erectors, which are muscles of backward bending.
Meaning, when we lean back and the abdominal muscles engage as in the BLFB, this is functionally a forward bend.
If you examine the second photo however, you can see that the back muscles have shortened (engaged) and the spine itself is extending, or bending backward. Compare this to the top photo, and you can see the spine is in a completely different position. Photo 2 is a functionally a backward bend.
Why Should We Avoid the Backward Leaning Forward Bend (BLFB)
There are several reasons why we should not do the BLFB:
1) This position will not strengthen our back muscles. This is because the back muscles are not engaging.
2) This is the cause of the "low back" pain/discomfort people often feel in standing backbends. When the spine doesn't bend, all of the pressure transfers at the low back instead of evenly across the spine. This isn't healthy for the spine.
3) It will probably feel awful. In the BLFB position, we are asking our body to go back by leaning back and to go forward with the engagement of the abdomen. This feels exactly as it reads: confusing and conflicting.
4) It won't improve our backbends, posture or back health because effort is not in the right place. Therefore we won't actually progress in the direction we are trying to.
To recap, always use your back muscles if you are trying to bend your spine backward. This is easiest done from the floor in postures such as Cobra or Full Locust. If you are doing a Standing Backbend, just make sure you are actually bending your spine backward. Avoid the Backward Leaning Forward Bend!
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
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