With the increasing number of yoga practitioners there is an increasing trend to injuries resulting from asanas. Back-bends (including Updog, Lotus, Bridge, Wheel, Cobra or Camel) bends the back in a way that we are not used to in our daily routine any haste will bring injuries to the muscles or spine. Some of the muscles that plays a critical role to an example back bending, the Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) are the Latissimus Dorsi, Iliopsoas and Rectus Abdominis and Rectus Femoris.
Latissimus Dorsi is the muscle in the back that connects the arms to the spine and the pelvis. Function of the Latissimus Dorsi includes adduction and extension of the arms and extension of the arms as well as the medial rotation of the arms. To activate the latissimus dorsi in wheel pose the arms should not be splayed out wide when pushing up and holding in the wheel position.
The iliopsoas is the primary connector that bridge the upper torso to the lower torso in our body. The muscles attach itself from the sides of the lumbar spine over the pelvic bone to our femur. The iliopsoas helps to flex and rotate the hip joint as well as the adduction of the abducted hip joint. In the wheel pose, the flexibility of the iliopsoas is essential for the bending of the lower back. For safe bending in the lower back, try to move the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) forward and move the iliac crest (hips) backwards from the navel and move the navel forward. The other hip flexors includes sartorius, tensor fascia lata, rectus femoris, the pectineus, and the adductor brevis. Stretch the psoas with poses like Anjaneyasana (Low Lunges), Setu Bandha Savangsana (Bridge Pose) or Purvottanasana (Reverse Planks) and strengthen them with poses like leg lifts and Navasana (Boat Pose)
Rectus Abdominis runs from the base of the ribcage to the pubic bone of the pelvis. It is essential to activate the rectus abdominis so that the back muscle can relax more during the back bend by shortening the distance between the rib cage and the pelvis and prevent the compression and shortening of the lumbar spine. Even with perfect alignment of the hand and the feet it is imperative to engage the front of the body for lifting to prevent the shortening of the back. Other abdominal muscles are Transversus Abdominis, External Oblique and Internal Oblique. Practice asanas like Navasana (Boat Pose) to shorten and strengthen the rectus abdominis.
Rectus Femoris is one of the 4 quadriceps muscle groups. The other quadricep muscle group is called the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. The Rectus Femoris assists in flexion of the hip joint, extension of the knee joint and anterior tilt of the pelvis. The flexibility of the rectus femoris helps to prevent compensation of overarching the lower back during back bends. Asanas like Eka Pada Rajakoptasana (King Pigeon) or Supta Virasana (Recline Hero) can help to lengthen the rectus femoris muscle.
After knowing more on the muscles, I came to a realisation that the painful-agonising backbends are not dependent on just one group of muscle as their names indicates. All muscles come together and it is that synergy that we can get into a pose without compromising and/or hurting our bodies.