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Are you working towards some deep backbends in your practice on the mat? These 7 poses will help you to improve your spinal mobility, along with getting in to the shoulders and chest.
Note that this is a pretty intense practice. I will offer some modifications, but if you have any sort of spinal injury this may not be the best class for you.
Please have 2 blocks ready (or a bolster for a gentler heart opener).
1. Melting Heart – Starting on your hands and knees, leave the hips stacked over the knees as you walk your hands out in front of you. Lower the forehead down towards the mat, or on to a block. Press the palms down in to the mat. Work on softening the heart down towards the mat. Focus on relaxing the area in between the shoulder blades. Draw the low belly in to protect the low back.
2. Sphinx – Ease forward on to your belly. Ground down through the forearms, with elbows underneath the shoulders. Spread the fingers and press in to the palms. Pull your heart forward, as you drag the forearms back energetically. Squeeze together the shoulder blades. Soften your belly in to the mat, as you ground down through the pubic bone. Reach the tailbone down towards your heels, and keep the pelvis neutral. Don’t compress the neck here, use a subtle tuck of the chin to keep the neck long.
3. Laying Chest Opener – This pose will focus more on your shoulder flexibility, and get in to opening the chest. Extend your right arm out to the side, and bend the elbow at 90 degrees. Begin to roll on to your right side (right hip, shoulder, and ear). You may choose to bend your knees here. Push in to the left hand, or bring it on to the low back to take the stretch deeper. After a few moments here, slowly ease to the other side.
4. Advanced Melting Heart – If the first melting heart pose was a deep enough stretch for you, repeat the same version over again. You are also welcome to bring the elbows straight down to the floor or to the set of blocks. Keep your hips stacked over the knees. Lower the forehead down towards the ground (it may not touch, that’s okay). Soften the chest towards the floor. Bring the hands together in prayer, bend your elbows and reach your thumbs towards the back of the neck. Feel this stretch in to your shoulders, chest, triceps and back of neck. This positioning of the arms is great if you are working towards poses that involve flipping your grip (i.e. king pigeon). When you are ready to come out of this pose, straighten your elbows and use the leverage of your forearms to lift back up.
5. Seal (with optional quad stretch) – Slide back on to your belly. You are welcome to repeat sphinx here, listen to what is right for your body. Or you can extend the arms in front of you, lifting the elbows off of the mat. Hold here for a few moments, or add in a quad stretch. Bring your left hand towards the center. Bend your right knee and catch hold of your foot, flipping it in. If this feels intense in your low back you can adjust your hand, lower the elbow, or release the foot. After about a minute and a half, switch sides.
6. Supported Fish – Prepare your two blocks, setting one up under the upper back (between the shoulder blades) and the other underneath your head. Blocks can be at whichever height works for you. You may either keep your soles on the mat, extend the legs straight in front of you, or drop the knees out to the side to add on some hip opening. Let the arms relax out to your sides, or if you are feeling really open you may bring the hands up overhead. If you start to experience any tingling or numbness in the arms, you may want to open the arms to cactus or bring down beside you.
7. Laying Spinal Twist – Finishing your practice with a twist after the deep back bends is a great way to release any pinching or tension in your low back. Lower all the way down to your back, feeling your spine flat on the ground. Open the arms out to your sides, or in to cactus. Shift your hips over to the right. Wrap the right thigh over the left, then drop both of your knees to the left. Soften in to the pose. Then repeat on other side.
Prefer to be guided along by visual and audio cues? Practice along with me in the video below.
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