Backbends are an important part of any yoga practice. We don’t bend backwards in our daily lives; it feels much more natural to bend forward (bending to tie shoes or pick things up from the floor, etc). As we age our spines become more rigid and begin to round forward. The regular practice of backbends will free the spine from built up tension and rigidity. Backbends open the hips, strengthen and stretch the legs and lower back muscles. They help the body gain more flexibility, align the spine, and build muscle tone. Along with flexibility and muscle tone, backbends also stimulate the abdomen, kidneys, reproductive and digestive system.
B.K.S. Iyengar uses backbends to cure depression in his students and as a holistic alternative for heart patients. According to Sr. Iyengar Teacher, Father Joseph Pereira, BKS Iyengar suffered more than one heart attack 30 years ago. Rather than have heart surgery he remained in his practice room, on a setu-bandha bench, for several days to “clear blockages in his heart”. (Fr. Joe talked about this during his workshop last September in Nova Scotia.)
In the Astadala Yogamala, Volume 8. B.K.S. Iyengar discusses how backbends massage the heart in a way that running and jogging cannot. Backbends increase the amount of blood circulating to the heart muscles without irritating or making the heart pump faster, and without the tremendous movement of the body used in running or jogging.
References: Yoga for Inner Strength, J Chapmam; Astadala Yogamala, Volume 8, BKS Iyengar; Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar.
Instructional Back bending videos
Beginners: Urdhva Dhanurasana Instructional Series 1 & 2
Beginners-Intermediates: Urdhva Dhanurasana Instructional Series 3 & 4