A backbend is a mild form of body contortion in which the upper half of the body is bent backward until the top of the head nearly reaches the ground. It is a basic gymnastics move, and is performed by gymnasts both to stretch the shoulders and to start off more dramatic moves such as back walkovers. The backbend is also sometimes used during yoga sessions, but here it is typically begun from a reclining position rather than a standing one. It is important to note that attempting to perform a backbend without proper preparation can lead to serious injury.
As its name suggests, a backbend involves bending the upper body backward, usually until the top of the head nearly touches the ground. To begin the move, the performer stands up straight with her feet approximately shoulder-width apart. She raises her arms so that her fingers point toward the ceiling, and then begins to bend backward in a fluid motion until the crown of her head starts to near the ground. At this stage, she usually plants her palms on the ground with her fingertips facing her heels. Very flexible contortionists sometimes vary this last step by grabbing onto their ankles or calves, so that their bodies appear to be folded in half.
The backbend is a basic gymnastics move. Sometimes it is performed by gymnasts simply to stretch the muscles of the upper body. Commonly, however, it is a foundational movement which sets up more complex moves such as back walkovers and back handsprings.
With its emphasis on deep stretching, yoga also frequently incorporates backbends. When performed as part of a yoga sequence, however, backbends are often begun from a supine position rather than a standing one. To enter into a yoga backbend, the exerciser lays on her back, bends her knees, and places her palms on the floor behind her shoulders, her fingers pointing in the same direction as her toes. Keeping her palms planted and pushing off with her feet, she then raises her abdomen and upper body in stages until she has achieved the backbend posture.
Note that attempting to perform any kind of backbend without proper preparation can lead to serious injury. It is best to learn this move under the guidance of an experienced gymnastics instructor or yoga teacher. Additionally, care should be taken to properly warm up and stretch the muscles prior to performing this move.