Different states of consciousness (awareness) can be achieved by keeping the spine in different positions. Our spine can bend to the back and front, from side to side and twist. The practitioner of Yoga experiences the whole range of states of consciousness the human body is capable of eliciting.
Flexibility of the spine gets affected as we grow up. In children the spine is very flexible and they can naturally bend back without much strain. If you ask a child to do Poorna Bhujangasana, he/she will do it effortlessly. This is the source of unlimited energy and dynamism children have. Here, I will talk about the experience and benefits of practicing backbends, i.e. postures where the spine is kept in extension.
Lifestyles create patterns. The way you think and the way you move your body engrave in your brain particular patterns that define your personality. Specific changes in your personality can be achieved through breaking these patterns and asana practice can help you attain that. Backbends can facilitate the breaking of patterns related to being shy, feeling uncomfortable in a new group, finding difficulty in expression, feeling hurt easily and lingering to that feeling for long. They can also be useful if you lack confidence, assertiveness, have difficulty in saying no etc. Practice backbends for a few weeks and you will naturally feel a surge of confidence and related changes in your personality. Moreover, if you lack energy, creativity and feel lazy, you should also find that a regular practice of backbends will help you overcome that.
So how does it work?
When we adopt a backbend, the surface area of the body increases to its maximum. We are bigger than what we normally are. This creates openness in the body and mind, brings about feelings of happiness and openness. Expansion is happiness – we experience happiness when our body or mind expand. E.g. people who live in a warm climate that has a loosening effect on their joints and muscles are less susceptible to depression than those who live in predominantly cold weather. Another example is when we feel happy while reaching out to other people. This is a mental expansion. As social beings, we cannot be happy if we isolate ourselves from others, unless we have chosen to do certain meditative practices.
Anatomically, backbends realign the spine and help in postural correction. The capacity of the lungs increases as backbends stretch the chest and intercostal muscles. Lungs get more space as compared to when you are slouching, which helps you breathe more fully.
Physiologically, backbends stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to better circulation, increased digestion and metabolic rate, better alertness and sensory perception etc. However, if used properly, this stimulation can be used to lead to a deeper relaxation. At the pranic level, backbends stimulate prana which is responsible for your energy, activities, dynamism and the ability to take initiatives.
As mentioned above, there are amazing psychological benefits of practicing backbends. They can be particularly transformative to introvert personalities, especially if you are shy, take time to feel comfortable with new people, lack confidence, courage or ease of expression, have hard time taking decisions or be spontaneous, often feel gloomy, depressive, like a victim or defeated by negative thoughts, if you have inferiority complex and so on. Regular practice of backbends will help you overcome that.
It is amazing to see how people change positively once they start practicing backbends regularly. They experience a fresh surge of enthusiasm, openness and freedom. In my experience, backbends are especially good for people who suffer from depression. A regular backbends practice combined with a change in outlook on life, will take them out of depression completely.