Back-bending postures involve rotating our pelvis backward, creating a posterior pelvic tilt, & creating more space between the pelvis & the lower ribs. Opposite our forward-bending practice, in our back-bending practice, we shorten the muscles along the backside of our body to lengthen the muscles along the front side of our body. Starting with the tops of your toes & feet, the fronts of your shins, your quads, hip flexors, abdominals, chest, the fronts of your shoulders & neck, & facial musculature.
The glutes can act as a powerful hip extender, deepening our backbend. However, engaging the glutes can also cause external rotation and/or abduction at the hip, widening the knees & generally creating less stability in our lower kinetic chain. Engaging the glutes just enough to create that hip extension, while preventing widening the knees by also engaging the adductors, will allow us to thoughtfully approach our asana.
The goal of our back-bending practice is length. If we practice performance-based yoga, we sometimes throw the neck back, giving us the illusion that we have maximized the pose. However, reclaiming the space between the shoulders & ears & allowing the cervical spine to be drawn upwards, almost as if a string were attached to the top of your crown, allows for the greatest length & extension of our spine, without being tricked by throwing the neck back in the pose.