Backbends hurt your back…

… if you only bend your lower back.

Ouch! Just looking at this picture hurts! And the one below is no better–off the pages of Yoga Journal. They had a pretty good article about Cobra Pose, unfortunately promoted as ” one pose for a healthy, pain free back”. The image and the article are describing two different things, and that shows one of the most disturbing problems with yoga we have today: The images are all wrong!                

Remember the ones I dissected in my older post about Yoga problems?

I’m annoyed with the extreme backbends. Even the models aren’t able to bend the way they should (in an even arch throughout their spine, from top to bottom), so you see a very sharp angle in the low back, and otherwise one straight line.

Backbends should help open the upper back, not overextend the lower! Good teachers know that, and explain it appropriately, but we have images all over that give us the idea that in Cobra your arms should be straight, in camel your head should touch your feet. Undereducated Yoga instructors are perpetuating the problem.

And now I’m reading about instructors that yell at students to push themselves harder. What is this? Yoga boot camp? No surprise that more and more aspiring Yogis end up in the emergency room.

For our workshops I’m using images that show the least straining version of yoga poses: Here is our Cobra. Yes, this is a Cobra pose. If you can REALLY extend your upper back, then you can lift yourself a little higher. Otherwise work on length, pulling your chest forward, your shoulders back and down.

1. Ground the hip points down into the mat. 2. Point the tailbone towards your feet, pulling the low abdominals towards the spine. 3. Extend your upper back forward, before you even think of lifting.

This way you strengthen and lengthen your back instead of damaging it.

Did you ever hurt yourself in a yoga class? Please leave a comment!

10 thoughts on “Backbends hurt your back…

  1. When I did Ashtanga, in my twenties, I hurt my back CONSTANTLY in cobra pose because the way it was modeled was EXACTLY like the Yoga Journal model featured in Lu’s blog. Ashtanga is heavy on hands-on adjustment and light on workshopping a pose, so for years I assumed I was doing it “right” and that eventually it wouldn’t hurt so much. Poor Twenties Candice. Now Thirties Candice has been mostly rehabbed and teaches and practices cobra safely. She does not subscribe to the “The most impressive-looking pose is worth wrecking your body” philosophy. If yoga is to be sustainable over a lifetime, we must learn proper form and not sacrifice our bodies to “perform”.

  2. I agree, but in addition think that instructors need to teach their students how to listen to their own bodies. When we are truly listening to what our bodies tell us than we will avoid injury. Even the most correct form can be stressful to someone if their structure resists it. Loved your post!

    • Definitely! Students should feel free to take a break any time, get out of a pose, ask for help–whatever they need. That’s why I was so shocked when I read the post about the Bikram-experience… I hope that’s not typical for Bikram instructors. Can you imagine? How can you teach awareness when you’re yelling at students??

  3. The model in the image above is in serious trouble if she so much as sneezes or twists coming out of that pose. Virtually all of the rotation is on a few lumbar and thoracic vertebrae with the others still relatively rigid. Last time I checked the spine doesn’t operate like a hinge. I’m not sure even moving the hands forward would help because the weak spot would still be present and the thoracic vertebrae wouldn’t extend.

    Why is she doing this anyway? It’s not going to open up the upper back and relieve or prevent kyphosis?

    • I know! It got me so mad when I saw that picture in Yoga Journal. The article suggests that the writer is well aware of the problems with cobra pose… but probably the writer wasn’t asked about the images. They just chose what looked “pretty” to them, I guess.

  4. This is an excellent article and I like where you are coming from. Magazines like Yoga Journal try to make yoga so glamourised and forget the roots and the real purpose of yoga, I always give my students various options for most poses, where I can, EveryBODY is different and each body is different on any given day, depending whats going on our lives. Yoga is for healing the body not showing it off.

  5. Pingback: What NOT to do in Cobra « lumuellerkaul

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