Most people think backbends are all about flexibility. Well I am here to tell you that is simply not true. Backbends require strength, balance, and confidence. And like all yoga poses, you get out of them what you put into them. You have to feel confident in yourself when flowing into a backbend, balanced when holding the posture, and strong as you lift yourself out of the pose.
Some days my heart is so open and my body so prepared that I can float in and out of backbends with ease and grace. And then there are days (sometimes the very next day) when my mind is running a million miles a minute and negative thoughts are flooding in causing my confidence and stability to waiver. On those days, I don’t risk practicing backbends. Instead I come back to the basic yoga asanas and mindful meditation. So, before you try any of these at home, keep in mind that backbends require a lot of prep work—not only in the form of prep poses and mastering the foundational yoga asanas, but also in the form of a calm mind and an abundance of self-confidence.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
How to get into the pose: Lie on your stomach with your hands alongside your torso. Exhale, bend at the knees, bring your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands and grab your ankles. Keep your knees hip width apart. Inhale and lift your buttocks and thighs up. With every inhale, lift the thighs higher, press your shoulder blades together, and open your heart. With every exhale tighten your core, buttocks and leg muscles. Keep a bend in the elbows to prevent hyperextension. If you notice tension in the neck, take notice of the shoulders and relax them away from your ears. Gaze forward. Stay in this pose for 20 to 30 seconds. Exhale to release. Repeat the pose once or twice to gain confidence.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
How to get into the pose: Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width apart and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly. Option to bring a block between your thighs and squeeze to strengthen the inner thigh muscles. Press your shins and the tops of the feet firmly into floor. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down as if you are placing your hands into your back pockets. If necessary, use your hands to spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down through your tail bone. Press your front thighs back if they drift past the knees as hips should remain directly over the knees for stability. Inhale and lift your heart and lean back slowly. For the time being keep your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis. Beginners stay here until you feel confident to go deeper. Option to bring one hand onto the same-side foot, then the other hand onto the same-side foot. Repeat this action on each side a few times to build strength and flexibility. Option to use a wall for support.
When ready, touch the second hand to same-side foot while first hand is also resting on its respective foot. If you’re not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under to lift your heels a few inches higher. Keep the lower back as long as possible. Try not to dump all your weight into the low back but rather use your core and inner thigh muscles to hold you up while your hands rest on your ankles. Turn your arms outwardly so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. You can keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back if accessible. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a minute. To exit the pose, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your heart. Come to child’s pose for a few breaths to counter the pose.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
How to get into the pose: Lie on the floor, and if necessary, place a folded blanket or towel under your shoulders to protect your neck. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Exhale and, pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your tailbone upward, firm and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders. Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels. Option to bring a block in between your inner thighs and squeeze in order to strengthen the pelvic area, inner thighs, and core. Lengthen the tailbone. Lift your chin away from the sternum, leaving enough space for an imaginary tennis ball to fit. Firm the outer arms, broaden the shoulder blades. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Exhale to release, roll the spine slowly down onto the floor, one inch at a time.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
How to get into the pose: Lie supine on the floor. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your head, forearms relatively perpendicular to the floor, fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Press your feet into the floor, exhale and push your tailbone upward, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and feet parallel. Take 2 or 3 breaths to mentally prepare. Then firmly press the hands into the floor and your shoulder blades against the back and lift up onto the crown of the head. Keep your arms parallel. Take 1 or 2 breaths here. Press your feet and hands into the floor, tailbone and shoulder blades against your back, and with an exhaling breath, lift your head off the floor and straighten your arms. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward and firm the outer thighs. Spread the shoulder blades across the back and let the head hang or lift it slightly to be able to look at the floor. Stay in the pose for 10 seconds or more, breathing easily. Repeat 2 to 4 times to gain confidence flowing in and out of this advanced pose.
Until next time,