The benefits of back-bending with correct form are infinite. Opening the front of the spinal column can provide access to spaces between the vertebral discs that are otherwise closed off from poor postural habits. Back-bending with proper alignment can help to strengthen the vertebral column, stimulate the central nervous system, and nourish the soft cushions between the vertebrae that act as shock absorbers for our system.
Forward folding in Padahastasana (Hands to Feet pose) has similar effects for the back-side vertebral column. Plus, there’s the added compression to the vital organs against the thighs, when we are folded to maximum shape.
Standing with your feet together, your arms overhead in grip-lock position, stretch up to the ceiling as high as you can. Create the longest body possible. Feel and imagine all the bones of your spine slightly separating as you stretch higher and higher up. Slowly release your head back without losing your vertical lift. With a big, deep breath, start to draw a line on the ceiling towards the back wall with your fingertips. Remember that as you start to reach back, you must give proper attention to keeping the lift of your spine. Back-bending is not meant to compress the back of the spine, it’s meant to stretch the front of the spine. That being said, as your back-bends develop, it’s important you keep prioritizing the initial stretch of the spinal chord and column. Always lift, hold the lift, and challenge the bend. Keep your legs strong and your abdominal wall pulled in. Keep your breath high in the chest and keep stretching up and back. Eventually, you will push your hips and thighs slightly forward to counteract the balance, but never so much that you pinch the lower back. Remember, stretch up, up, up as you lean back!
Slowly come out of the backbend to an upright position.
To forward fold, lengthen out of your lower back with a deep breath and continue the movement forward into a fold. Bend your knees if you need to.
Separate your hands and walk them around the back of your feet to grab onto your heels. Very naturally, your arms will wrap around your legs, hands will tuck under feet, leaving your belly on your thighs, chest on your knees, and your face will tuck in close to your legs below your knees. With the body in this position, tight and compact, begin to stretch the back of your legs by pushing your feet down and lifting your hips up. Make sure to keep your elbows bending, and your arm and grip muscles engaged to keep the form of the body against the thighs as you start to straighten your legs.
Back-bending and Forward-folding both provide massive amounts of energetic release. Back-bending can be used to stimulate, or awaken energy from the base of the spine and from the spinal chord. Forward-folding does just the opposite, as it promotes a calming sensation through the central nervous system from the closing in, and quieting alignment of folding into ourselves. Each can be used to balance the energy of the body, and can provide incredible healing opportunities for the anatomy of the spine.