It is true, binds are intense on the shoulders!
However, while some students may find binds very constricting they are also very expansive in different areas of the body. It’s a matter of shifting your perspective and taking note of where in the body feels more free when you get in to the bind (i.e. the chest).
If your shoulders are tight and you find binds are challenging, I highly recommend having a strap or belt handy to make the poses more accessible.
This is an intermediate practice. While we will work through some shoulder openers first, please pay attention to how the poses feel in your own body. Do not force yourself in to a particular shape. If binds are new to you, take your time building up to the more advanced versions.
1. Chest Openers – Lay down on your belly, extending your left arm out to the side. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, so that your elbow is in line with your shoulder and your hand is in line with your elbow. Rest your palm flat on the floor. Roll on to your left ear ear, left shoulder, and left hip. I like to take a bend in my knees here. Your right hand can press in to the floor for support. Relax your neck, draw the shoulder blades together on the back. Slowly ease back to the belly and switch sides. Return to the belly once more, then press to your hands and knees. Keeping your hips directly above the knees, walk your hands forward until you can bring your forehead down to the ground in puppy pose. Keep your arms extended straight ahead, hugging the forearms towards one another and keeping the low belly drawing in. Breathe in to the upper back, creating more space here.
2. Rag Doll Fold – Move through your first Vinyasa flow, ending in downward dog. From there, step your feet forward to the front of the mat. Take your feet a bit wider than normal, and generously bend your knees. Clasp your hands together behind your back. Bend your elbows, squeeze the shoulder blades together and lift your knuckles up and over. The sensation of having your elbows bent will likely feel different here than what you are used to. Shake your head gently side to side, releasing any tension from the neck. After holding here for a desirable amount of time, release your hands down to the mat, push in to the heels, and slowly roll back up to standing.
3. Easy Twist with Half Bind – Take another Vinyasa flow, resting again in downward dog. Kick the right leg up to the sky, bend the lifted knee, allowing the hip to open up nice and wide. Step the right foot forward between the palms. Keep your left hand on the mat beside your front foot, and extend the right hand up to the sky. To take in to a half bind, bend the right elbow and bring your hand to rest on your low back. As you bring your hand behind you, you want to feel your shoulder opening backwards so that you can begin to take your gaze upwards. Bring your right hand down inside of the front foot. Spin the left heel parallel to the short edge of your mat, and extend the left arm up. Effectively reversing the direction of your easy twist. You can take the same half bind here, bending the left elbow and bringing the hand to rest on your low back. Again feel the top shoulder drawing back as you twist and bind.
4. Reverse Warrior and Triangle with Half Bind – From where you leave off in number 4, keep your left hand on low back, push down in to your legs and rise up. Reach the right arm up overhead to come in to Reverse Warrior. With this lift you may find you are able to reach your left hand further in to the bind, maybe reaching for your right inner thigh crease. Straighten the front leg, and lower your right hand to the right foot for Triangle (still maintaining the half bind). The left shoulder draws back and your left fingers continue to crawl forward on the thigh. Rotate the chest up to the sky, keep the crown of the head extending forward. Even though you are in a bind here, take a moment to notice how this pose allows you to open up through the chest and lungs. Look down towards the ground and slowly release out of the bind.
Move through a Vinyasa before switching to take 3 and 4 on the other side.
5. Standing Series – Making your way back to downward dog, kick the right leg up and step it through between the hands at the front of the mat. Ground your back heel down, at about 45 degrees. Lift the chest and rise through the upper body. Square your hips towards the front. Inhale the arms up overhead, bending your elbows in to cactus. Squeeze the shoulder blades on to the back, to find opening through the chest. Sink deeper in to the front knee for Warrior 1. Bring your hands to your hips, and shift the back foot in a couple of inches. Bring your hands behind you, finding a reverse prayer. Pointing the fingertips up if possible, or clasping hold of a strap if needed. Hinge at the hips, folding over the front leg in Pyramid Pose. Reminder that a small bend in the knee here is totally fine. Push down in to the feet to come back up. Straighten your arms and clasp the fingers together behind the back. Stand down on the right leg, as you extend the left leg up behind you in Warrior 3. Keeping the hips square to the ground, try to lift the thumbs off of the tailbone. Inhale to rise up and swing the left leg forward. Cross the left ankle on top of the right thigh. Opening the left knee to the side, and sitting down as if in a chair, coming in to Standing Pigeon. Repeat through this standing series of poses on the other side.
6. Full Bind – From downward dog, extend the right leg up, stepping the right forward in between the palms. Spin the back heel down, bringing the foot parallel to the short edge of the mat. Rise up through the torso, extending your arms front to back. Take a deep bend in the front knee, for Warrior 2. Bring the right forearm on to the right thigh, and then bring your left hand to the low back (as in the half bind practiced earlier). You can hang out here, or if this feels good you may opt to try for the full bind. If proceeding, bring the right arm under the right thigh, clasping the hands together (or clasping on to a strap). As in extended side angle, think of drawing the left shoulder back. Again you can stay here, or if you wish you can try for Bird of Paradise. Look down, and while keeping the bind step your left foot to the top of the mat. Bring the feet a bit more than hip distance apart. Begin to lift the torso up, bringing the left leg up with it in the bind of the arms. As you draw the shoulder back, see if you can straighten the leg. Look to the ground, bend back down, and gently release the bind. Fold forward in to rag doll, shaking everything out before trying the other side.
7. Seated Twist with Bind – Coming to a seat, extend the legs out in front of you. Bend in to the right knee, and cross the right foot over top of the left thigh. If you can bend the left knee as well, drawing the heel in towards your sit bones. Option 1 is to hook the left elbow over the right thigh and bring the right hand to the ground behind you. To take the bind from here, thread the left hand over and under the right thigh. Then wrap the right hand behind your low back. Reach to clasp the hands together behind you, or hold on to a strap to extend your reach. Think of lengthening up. Ease your way out of the bind and twist, then take the pose to the other side.
Are you a bit confused and want to see each of the moves practiced step by step? Check out the full practice video below.
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