Are you looking to get deeper into your back bends? Or do you want to start incorporating heart openers into your personal practice? Before you jump right into these poses, or to help open your back and shoulders further, I highly recommend doing these 5 poses to improve the flexibility of your spine.
These are more advanced yin yoga poses, please ease into them and pull back if you feel pain.
You will want to have 2 blocks handy, and possibly a blanket and a furry feline companion!
This is NOT appropriate for anyone with spine injuries such as bulging or herniated discs!! I cannot state this enough!
As with any yin pose, you should be holding these for extended periods of time in order to feel the full effect and allow your body to open into the shape. If you want help in knowing how long to hold, please do watch the full video practice that they are a part of, YIN YOGA BACKBENDS.
1. Supported Fish – Prepare your blocks on the mat, with 1 between where the shoulder blades will be and 1 which will support the head. If this is your first time doing supported fish you may want to start on the lowest level, if you have been practicing for a while feel free to take it to the second level as I have done here. Feel out what is right in your body today. Slowly ease your way down onto the blocks. Relax your legs out long in front of you, or bring the soles of the feet together and knees wide. Take deep cleansing breaths through the nose.
2. Sphinx – Laying on your belly, bring your forearms to the ground beside your head with palms and elbows about shoulder distance. As you press up think of lifting your chin and chest, shining your heart forward, while pulling your shoulders back. With legs long behind you, point the toes and keep them firm to the mat. If the stretch is too intense, move palms forward.
3. Lying Chest Opener – While on your belly, take your right arm out to the side and keep it bent at about 90 degrees with the elbow roughly in line with the shoulder. Keeping the arm in this position, roll onto your right side. Bend your knees toward the chest. For a more intense stretch you may want to bring the left hand on to the low back.
4. Puppy Pose – Coming into a table top position, align your hips over your knees. Keeping your lower body as is, walk your hands forward. Come down onto your forearms and rest the head on the mat. Typically in this pose we aim for a flat back, but for this practice I suggest dipping the belly to find a curve in the spine. If you feel pain in the low back you have gone too far. For a deeper stretch you can use blocks under your elbows with palms together and reaching back (see the video for full directions on this variation).
5. Seal – Laying on your belly, press your palms into the mat as you raise your chest up. You may stay here with toes on the ground. To go further, bend your knees pointing the toes toward touching your head. Press your shoulder down and back. Try to minimize the engagement involved in holding this pose.
Complete the full 45 minute practice (and see my cat Cleo in action) in the video below.
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