Beans and Backbends

“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you arc.”

What do beans and backbends have in common? Why, it’s the magical missing piece to your backbending journey! Not really, but there is a connection. While eating beans may not instantly give you better backbends (oh how I wish!), the fiber in beans does have a direct connection to your digestive health, which in turn can affect your backbends.

First, let’s look at the connection of backbending and our digestive health. Have you ever noticed when it is easier or more difficult for you to backbend? Maybe the time of day affects your practice, what you eat and drink before, how well you slept, your stress levels, or whether you just eliminated? Have you ever adjusted what and when you eat prior to taking a backbending or aerial class? Perhaps you discovered that stress, constipation, or gut irritation can make you feel less limber and mobile. This is perfectly normal!


In the case of an unhappy gut, due to stress, constipation, or irritation, there are two major consequences*: 1) its negative effect on the pelvic floor in the form of the pelvic floor muscles clenching, and 2) its negative effect by being directly connected to the front of your spine via the mesentery (a tissue packed with blood vessels, lymphatics, and nerves), which could result in the feeling of a stiff spine. If you have come to my backbending class, you may have experienced how a simple belly massage, coupled with deep diaphragmatic breathing technique, can help provide positive information to your digestive organs and nervous system, which in turn can help with the act of extending your spine backwards. It’s so simple that it seems a bit like voodoo.


But what does this have to do with beans, you ask? You can give yourself constant belly massages externally, or you can also assist your digestive system internally, too, by eating enough fiber.


So, let’s talk about fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both have unique benefits and both are important for health. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. As it dissolves, it creates a gel (think of that gooey texture of cooked oats!) that helps improve digestion, as well as other things such as help lower blood cholesterol level. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, and it includes plant cellulose and hemicellulose. Insoluble fiber attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass with less strain on your bowel and pelvic floor. Insoluble fiber also helps promote bowel health and regularity.


Did you know that the average fiber intake for the US population is less than half of the recommended levels?** I’m going to let that sink in. We eat LESS THAN HALF of the recommended amount of fiber every day. For a woman, age 50 and under, the daily recommendation is 25 grams. For a man, age 50 and under, the daily recommendation is 38 grams.(Our daily recommendation of fiber intake decreases slightly as we age past 50.) Do you get enough fiber every day? We find fiber in vegetables, fruits (especially the skins), whole grains, and… beans.


Beans, my friend, contain copious amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber! Beans clock in at 15 grams per cup of cooked beans. As a woman, that’s already MORE than half my daily recommendation. Not to mention, beans are cheap, nutritious (I’ll talk more about the importance of potassium in another article, yet another nutrient the US population does not consume enough of), and easy to prepare.


I love beans — and the possibility that they could help my backbending and aerial practice makes them even more magical in my book.


*information shared here is extrapolated from a seminar with Dr. Brooke Winder, pelvic floor PT and former dancer.

-Cyndi Gahdia