So you want to backbend deeper? I’m with you. I don’t have a naturally “bendy” back, so I have to work pretty consistently to keep my backbends good and healthy. In this post I will share with you my tips to deepen your backbend safely. In this blog post I will focus on urdhva dhanurasana or wheel pose, which is a traditional back-bending pose that shows up in most level 2+ vinyasa yoga classes.
Just remember it’s not all about the flexibility of your back. You must open up the entire front side of your body to deepen your backbends and then my friend you must practice patience and ahimsa. Don’t force yourself into a posture before your body is ready for it. If you experience any pain at all you must come out of the posture, check your alignment and then perhaps come back into the posture or choose a gentler version. Maybe you just practice restorative postures for a bit and slowly add in more strength building backbends and then begin to deepen the backbend safely.
1. Warm Up The Entire Body
This might seem like a no brainer, but seriously if you want deep backbends you must warm up the entire body, not just your back. Stretching and strengthening are of equal importance. The following postures are all excellent warm up postures; combine them with a few rounds of sun salutations and you have a complete practice to deepen your backbend safely.
2. Get Specific. Let’s Talk Postures.
When preparing for deep backbends you must consider what parts of your body will be involved; for example, in wheel pose the wrists, shoulders, back, hips/hip flexors, quads and glutes all need to be warmed up and stretched out. Core activation is also key. Using wheel pose as our example lets begin with the wrists and work our way down the body with a full body sequence to open up our front body, so we can backbend safely.
- Wrist circles
- weight bearing wrist stretches from a table top pose
Shoulders (Start gentle)
- Shoulder circles
- sun salutations,
- melting heart (anahatasana),
- downward facing dog at the wall
- prone pectoral stretch.
- Downward facing dog and dolphin pose
- Add binds to your standing postures.
- Interlace the hands behind your hips in warrior 1, practice humble warrior,
- eagle arms in warrior 3
- prasarita padotanasana c (wide leg forward fold with hands clasped behind hips)
- Side body stretches
- Cobra Pose
- Upward Facing Dog
- Locust Pose (perhaps add a bind)
- Bridge pose with the hands bound.
- Add backbends to your standing postures (anjaneyasana, crescent lunge, warrior 1). It’s important to strengthen and stretch!
- Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose)
Hips and Hip Flexors
- 3 legged down dog
- Anjaneyasana (low lunge)
- lizard pose
- pigeon pose
- reclining hero pose
- King Arthur’s Pose
- Lizard pose
- Pigeon pose
- Reclined Hero’s pose
- King Arthur’s Pose
- Fire up your gluteals
- Chair Pose
- Plank Pose
- Forearm Plank
- You don’t need to do a ton of core, just enough to activate the muscles and get them to turn on.
3. Proper Alignment
In wheel pose the hands are shoulder width distance (slightly wider is okay too), wrists are parallel to the short edge of your yoga mat, middle fingers are parallel to one another and the fingertips point back toward your heels.
Feet are hips width distance and PARALLEL to one another. Don’t turn the feet out or take them wider.
In all backbends you want to think of wrapping the upper thighs in toward one another.
In wheel pose think of lengthening your tailbone toward the wall behind you. This will keep you from compressing the lumbar spine. In Locust Pose, Cobra Pose, Upward Facing Dog, and Bow Pose you will also want to lengthen the tailbone toward the wall behind you. And in Camel Pose think of lengthening your tailbone down toward the floor.
Don’t let the heart drop. Always lift through the heart. Once again this will help keep you from taking the entire backbend in your lumbar spine.
Gently draw your lower abdomen in. Once again, keeping your core engaged will help protect your lower back.
4. Active and restorative backbends.
You need to practice both active and restorative backbends, so grab your block, bolster, yoga wheel… or whatever else you’ve got. It’s important to allow your body to relax into passive backbends too. Restorative and yin style backbends stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). If you can stimulate the PNS (relaxation response) in your active backbends you’ll be golden when it’s time to do drop backs and inverted backbends.
5. Bodywork and Myofascial Release to Backbend Safely
Yes, I said it. Get yourself regular massages. Between massages I use tennis balls, or if you’re hard core or a glutton for punishment you can use lacrosse balls, to release tension in the fascia and connective tissue. Myofascial release will help create space within your entire body. Look for a roll and release class or marma point therapy class at your local yoga studio.
Lets see your backbends yogis! Tag me on Instagram @ambuja_yoga or Facebook @ambujayoga
And as always feel free to shoot me a message if you have any more questions.
Love and Light,