When I say backbend what is the first thing you think of? Typically most people go directly to spine flexibility when they think about back bending poses. And although not wrong in how large of a part this does play in poses like wheel, often overlooked is the core strength required to get into and hold these asanas.
Last week I shared an advanced backbending practice using a yoga wheel, the 7 poses described here will be more accessible to a beginner/intermediate level. Remember, there is always the option to not come to the full version of our apex pose.
The 6 poses leading up to our apex pose are going to work your
abdominals, stretch your chest, open your shoulders and open your hip
Before we get started you will want to have two blocks handy. In a pinch large books or firm cushions will do.
These 7 poses come from a full hour long practice on my YouTube channel Backbend, Core & Arms Yoga Flow. If you would like to work in some flows (Vinyasas, Warriors, Lunges) head on over there to practice alongside me.
1. Supported Fish Pose – Set up your blocks first, one so that it will rest vertically between the shoulders blades and the other to sit horizontally under the head. I would suggest starting the blocks on their middle height. Slowly lower yourself down onto the blocks, making sure the blocks sit where they should. If the block is too low, you won’t be comfortable or able to hold the pose for as long. You may opt to let your hands rest on the belly, or by your sides. Extend the legs long in front of you, or bring the soles together and open the knees out to the sides. If there is any pinching in the back, you may want to lower the blocks to a lesser level. Draw your shoulders down and rest heavy on the blocks. Connect to your breath. Try to match the length of inhale and exhale as you breathe through the nose. To take the pose deeper, you can reach your hands up overhead, interlacing the fingers.
2. Bridge Pose – Lay down directly on your back, bending the knees and bringing the soles to the mat. Place 1 block between the upper thighs on its thinnest level. With the feet at hip width, relax your arms to the sides. Press into the feet, curl the tailbone up as you lift the hips, low back and mid back from the mat. Squeeze the block to ensure the knees don’t splay out to the sides. This will support the hips as they raise higher. Breathe into the belly and low back. After holding here, reverse the actions to lower back down slowly. Try to repeat this without the block but finding the same engagement. Lean the weight more into the left foot, and try to kick the right foot to the sky. Switch sides and then slowly lower back down.
3. Core Work – From a reclined position, set the legs up as if coming into happy baby. Hug the knees into the chest, take them wide and kick the soles of the feet to the sky. Align the ankles over the knees and try to pull the knees down, while keeping them bent at 90 degrees. Interlace the fingers behind the head. Press the lower back into the floor with your inhale, as you exhale curl up twisting to the left, reaching the right arm towards the left leg. Inhale as you lower to the floor, exhale and repeat to the opposite side. Work your way through a few cycles of this.
4. Puppy Pose – From table top, keep the hips as they are over the knees and start to walk your hands forward. Press the chest towards the floor and lower the forehead to the ground or a block. Keep the core engaged and low back from dipping. Instead press the upper back towards the ground as you stretch arms long.
5. Sphinx – Coming down onto your belly, set the arms up so the hands are about shoulder width distance apart and forearms are on the mat. Elbows should be roughly under the shoulders. Spread your fingertips wide as you take the backbend, lifting the heart and pulling the shoulders back. Press your toes into the mat. Engage the core again. Instead of staying still here, you may opt to make this more active. Inhale into sphinx. Then on your exhale press the tops of the feet into the floor and lift the hips off the mat, coil in as you look towards the belly. Rotate through a few of these.
6. Low Lunge – Make your way first into downward dog. From there step the right foot through between the hands to the front of the mat. Lower the left knee to the ground. Either keep your fingers on the ground, on a set of blocks or bring them to rest on the thighs. Press the hips forward. Don’t dump into the low back, instead lengthen the tailbone down, engage your core as you press the hips forward and down. To take a quad stretch, bring the left hand to the floor, bend the left knee and reach back to grab the foot (or hook a strap over the foot) and pull it in. If you’re able to grab the foot and find your balance, you may try to lift up off the left hand and hold the back foot with both hands.
7. Wheel Pose – Lower onto your back. Before going into full wheel pose, lets again take bridge pose. Set up as we did earlier, press into the feet and lift the hips, low and mid back from the mat. This time try to interlace the fingers underneath you, pressing into the backs of the arms to lift you higher. Release the fingers, move the arms to the sides and slowly lower down. To take full wheel, leave the legs as they are, but bring the palms next to the ears, with fingertips pointing towards the heels. Elbows should not be wider than the shoulders, and should be squeezing in. As in bridge, press the feet into the floor, curl the tailbone, squeeze the inner thighs and lift up. Once hips are lifted come first to the top of the head resting on the ground. You may stay here. If you are ready to, push up straightening the arms. Ensure the neck is relaxed while you hang out here. To come back down, tuck the chin towards you, bend the elbows and lower to bridge and then slowly roll down and out.
Be sure to take a spinal twist to recover after this deep back bend. I would also suggest child’s pose, and of course savasana before moving on with your day.
Are you a little bit confused by any of these steps, or want to take a full hour long practice? Check out the video below.
If you enjoyed this practice, please remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel! It means a lot and supports free yoga on the internet.
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