April Astoria yoga studio focus – Backbends



Happy Spring! Although the weather outside might not always seem very spring-like this time of year, we can feel the changes in the air.

In March we focused on opening up the Superficial Back Line of our bodies in deep forward folds. We worked to cultivate our inner awareness by diving deep and settling in to the more inward focus offered to us by these deep forward folds.

This month, we’re going to be utilizing that deep focus to spring forth into some heart opening through backbends.

Backbends inspire courage and action, and ask for trust and intuition. The very act of opening our hearts can be scary. We do a lot of hard work to protect this vulnerable part of our bodies. Backbends call for deeper levels of awareness that can be hidden from normal view.

They help us to be awake and strong even as we release held patterns in our bodies. A sense of mental clarity can be attained with well-structured backbends. They can increase our capacity for breathing not only in the moment, but long after we finish our practices.

Backbends are supported by the musculature of the front of the body, specifically a group of muscles and connective tissue called the Superficial Front Line (SFL).

These muscles work hard when we move into a backbend so that we don’t fall backwards. The muscles of the back of the body (The Superficial Back Line – read about the SBL here) help by contracting and shortening to support the back of the body, while the muscles in the SFL contract and lengthen at the same time to support movement into the posterior plane (behind you).

Let’s take a look at the function and anatomy of the front line of the body: The Superficial Front Line (SFL)

The function of the SFL :

The Superficial Front Line
Image from Tom Myers “Anatomy Trains”

Anatomy of the SFL :

  • The SFL originates at the top of the toes
  • It travels up the shin and includes the muscles that extend the toes and the tibialis anterior
  • From the front of the shin it feeds into the tendon that surrounds the kneecap and feeds into the quadriceps
  • From the quadriceps it travels up the rectus abdominis muscles of the belly and feeds into the connective tissue around the sternum
  • From the sternum it articulates with the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) on the front of the neck
  • And, finally, the SFL ends at the connective tissue of the scalp

How do the SFL and the SBL work together?

The Superficial Front Line and the Superficial Back Line (SBL) have a reciprocal relationship. The SBL is designed to support our back – from bottom to top, while the SFL is designed to pull us up from neck to pelvis, helping us to stand upright. To get a sense of this reciprocal relationship, try contracting the muscles of your back starting with your lower back and moving up the muscles of your back to your neck.

You naturally come into a backbend, right? The muscles on the front of your body help to support in a way that helps you to not fall backward. You can also feel this naturally with an inhale and an exhale: an inhale will lift us up and open through the front line of our body, while an exhale draws us into slight flexion of the spine.

It is very common for the Superficial Back Line to be pulling up the back and the Superficial Front Line to be pulling down (anyone sit hunched over at a desk all day?). This can create a host of problems for the neck and the lower back, as well as create restrictions in the breath.

With this in mind, we can start to see how the front of the body and the back of the body can work together to flex and extend the spine.

We can see how these two lines of muscles and connective tissue work together to create deep forward folds, or, our monthly focus, backbends. When engaged properly and when the two lines are used to support one another, backbends can not only free up the front of the body but help to engage the back of the body in a way that is supportive and not painful.

Let’s look at this motion in a few yoga poses that work to specifically open up the Superficial Front Line with the helpful support of the muscles of the back.

Come in to any yoga class this April, with any of our teachers, to engage with this important part of our anatomy in various ways. And if you have any questions about anything I've discussed here, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Written by Amanda Barp

Amanda Barp is co-founder of Watershed Wellness, a licensed massage therapist with 10+ years experience, a registered yoga teacher with a passion for learning and teaching about the human body & how to feel at home in it.