This set of postures and next week’s set are all about opening up! Over the last few weeks, we have eased into balancing on one leg, folding, and twisting. This next step is designed to counter all of the negative effects of being seated in a hunched position for most of the day– think: sitting for work, dining, driving, etc. Back-bending is a great way to open the front of the body and strengthen the back body. This can help with posture and feeling a sense of openness when so much of our lives and habits keeps us in a closed-off stature. These postures are not to be taken cold (meaning without a warm up), but instead should be practiced after the hips, shoulders, and core are warmed up. So, please refer back to chapter one, chapter two, or chapter three for ideas on how to get engaged and warmed. When you’re ready, proceed to mix the following poses into your practice….
Bridge Pose Variation
This shape begins to turn on the glutes and spinal erectors while simultaneously stretching the hips, chest, and shoulders. It’s both a good warm-up and cool-down posture.
Things to consider:
- Don’t over engage the tushy and don’t forget the inner thighs. The glutes should be active, firm, and strong in just about every back bending shape, but by squeezing too hard without also incorporating adduction (movement toward the midline of the body) of the inner thighs, the knees might knock out away from the midline and create discomfort in the lower back.
- Make some space between your chin and chest so you can open the airway and breathe deeply.
- Teacher’s tip: Feel free to place a block underneath the sacrum (low back/upper butt) for support.
- Dynamics: try lifting one leg and extending it straight to turn the heat of this pose up just a bit more.
Twisted Low Lunge
While not technically a back bending shape, this pose is actually another great preparatory posture as well as cool-down posture for a few reasons. The spine typically benefits from twisting postures to counteract both deep bends and deep folds. Think of twists as more of a reset for the spine before going from extreme extension (back bending) to extreme flexion (forward folding) and vice versa. Secondly this posture opens the hip flexors and the chest– two parts of the body that need to be warmed and primed for back bending. Lastly, this is a great transition shape, allowing for the opportunity to reach back and grab a hold of the hind foot and hug it in toward the glute, thus increasing the stretch into the hip flexors, chest, and shoulders.
Half Bow Pose
This pose begins to put all of the key aspects of back-bending together– engagement of the back body, and range of motion in the hips, chest, and shoulders. In the next chapter, we will take a look at a deeper variation (full bow pose).
Things to consider:
- Take hold of the instep of the foot with the thumb up, like you’re hitch hiking, rather than the thumb down. This gets into the chest more and helps keep the shoulder in safe external rotation.
- Don’t simply rely on the leg and arm to lift your chest. Instead, use your whole back to lift the chest higher.
- Teacher’s tip: You can leave the extended leg down on the ground or lift it up as well for more back body engagement and lift.
- Dynamics: try hugging the foot in toward the glute for a hip stretch, then kicking the foot back into your hand for the chest and shoulder stretch.
Lastly, balancing in Dancer’s Pose
This pose takes that last posture, and stands it up! In this shape, you’re combining back bending with the stability of a one-legged balancing posture. So consider the following:
- Keep your drishti (gaze point) focused on one solid point down and out in front of you to help with balance.
- Breathe smoothly, do not hold your breath.
- Start slow and perhaps bring your extended hand to a wall or pole to help with your balance.
- Teacher’s Tip: Keep engagement of the standing leg by putting a slight bend in the knee. This keeps you from locking it out and potentially inflaming the joint.
- Dynamics: Firm your midsection (like your kid-brother is about to punch you in the belly) to feel strong and centered in the core.
Be sure to warm up before playing with these postures and stretch out afterward. Don’t forget savasana (lying down for a few minutes after your practice with your eyes closed, body relaxed) to help calm your body and re-ground your energy, post-practice. In the next chapter, we will build on these postures.