How to Deepen Your Backbend Safely

backbend deeper

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.

Wrists

  • Wrist circles
  • weight bearing wrist stretches from a table top pose
  • flexion/extension

Shoulders (Start gentle)

  • Shoulder circles
  • cat/cow
  • 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
  • gomukhasana
  • prasarita padotanasana c (wide leg forward fold with hands clasped behind hips)

Back

  • Cat/Cow
  • Side body stretches
  • Twists
  • 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

nicaragua-yoga-retreat-low-lunge

Quads

  • Anjaneyasana
  • Lizard pose
  • Pigeon pose
  • Reclined Hero’s pose
  • King Arthur’s Pose

Gluteals

  • Fire up your gluteals
  • Squats
  • Chair Pose
  • Lunges

Core

  • 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

Hand placement

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 placement

Feet are hips width distance and PARALLEL to one another. Don’t turn the feet out or take them wider.

Upper thighs

In all backbends you want to think of wrapping the upper thighs in toward one another.

Tailbone

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.

Heart/Chest

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.

Core/Lower back

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,

Autumn

Easy Office Yoga

7 Simple and Easy Office Yoga Exercises

Hey yogis and workaholics and workaholic yogis… this blog post about easy office yoga is for you. But don’t worry, no experience is required. Within the past year or two my business has grown a lot and I am spending more and more time on my computer, so I welcome you to my office. When I feel tension and tightness creeping in or my posture disintegrating I work a few of these postures into my breaks.

Please don’t mind the cat butt or the melting dog face. There is always at least one pet in my office and today there were three.

I try to be super mindful about my posture, but I find myself starting to slump, or lean on an elbow or jutting my head forward… I’m seriously probably doing a combination of these three right now..ugh. I am fortunate that I work from home so I can get up and stretch, go for a walk or do some sun salutations pretty easily, but that’s not always the case. When I’m limited for time I will pick just a couple of these simple yoga exercises… and sometimes I will add in a low lunge to stretch out my ridiculously tight hip flexors.

There are plenty of opportunities to work these easy office yoga into your work routine that won’t make your coworkers weirded out (too much), but really… who cares? Here are 7 easy office yoga exercises you can do to reduce stress and tension, to improve your mood, and boost your circulation.

1. Easy Office Yoga for Your Back & Shoulders: Seated Cat-Cow

Benefits:chair-yoga-for-your-back

This movement is so simple and so overlooked. Seated cat-cow is a backbending and rounding motion and help relieve tension and tightness in the back, shoulders, neck and hips. Cat-cow can even help relieve tension headaches.

Practice:

Sit forward on the front edge of your chair and bring your hands to your thighs. For this exercise you will coordinate breath with movement. On your inhale breath you will tilt your pelvis forward and lift your chest and your gaze up to the ceiling to arch your back and backbend your spine. On your exhale breath begin by tilting the pelvis back, pulling your navel to spine and drawing chin to chest as your round your back. Repeat 5-10 times connecting breath with movement.

2. Easy Office Yoga for Your Spine: Seated Twist

Benefits:office-yoga-twist

Twists massage and tone our abdominal organs and release tension in our lower backs. Twists also stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system, so they are calming in nature. Gentle twists are also beneficial for our intervertebral discs.

Practice:

Sit tall in your chair with both feet firmly planted on the ground and hips width apart. Bring your left hand to the outer edge of your right thigh and your right hand to the outer edge of your chair (on the right side) or to the back of the chair (see photo). Inhale to lengthen your spine and sit a little taller and exhale to twist. Draw your gaze over your right shoulder. Keep the spine long as you twist. Hold for 5-7 breaths and then repeat on the opposite side.

3. Easy Office Yoga Exercise for Your Hips and Lower Back: Seated Figure 4

office-yoga-hip-stretch

Benefits:

Tight hips can contribute to lower back pain. This seated figure 4 stretch is the perfect stretch for the piriformis.

Practice:

Sit forward on the front portion of your chair. You want your sit bones (the bony protuberances that you sit on) at the bottom of your pelvis to be almost to the edge of your chair. To start cross your right ankle with foot flexed over your left thigh. Let your right knee drop down. See how this feels. If this feels okay you can use the right hand to gently press the right knee down while tilting the pelvis slightly forward. Hold for 10 breaths and then switch sides.

4. Easy Office Yoga for Your Lower Back: Seated Forward Fold

chair-yoga-for-hips-back

Benefits:

In your seated forward fold you have an opportunity to release the muscles of your back.

Practice:

Sit forward on the front edge of your chair, knees bent, feet planted hips width apart. Inhale and lengthen your spine long and exhale hinge forward from your hips and bring your belly to your thighs. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

5. Downward dog at your desk, chair or wall. 

office-yoga-downward-facing-dog

Benefits:

Downward dog stretches the muscles of the shoulders, the side body and the muscles of the back body.

Practice:

Bring hands shoulder width distance to the edge of your desk, your chair back or the wall and walk your feet away until your back can straighten and your biceps are by your ears. It’s okay to have the knees bent if you need to… the focus is on straightening the back.

6. Easy Office Yoga Exercise For Your Eyes

Benefits:

Eye exercises can help relieve strain in the eyes while toning the optic nerve. It will also help relieve any tension you may hold around your eyes.

Practice:

To start just find a comfortable seat. Begin with a side to side motion. Taking the gaze all the way to the right and then all the way to the left without strain. Repeat 5 times to each side. The change the gaze to move to the top and bottom of your vision. Repeat 5 times each. Then do circles with your eye gaze. Letting the gaze draw a circle around the outer edges of your vision. Repeat 5 times clockwise and 5 times counter clockwise. Slow down the motion in the places the eyes get a little jumpy or sticky. Then close your eyes, bring the palms of your hands together and rub them together quickly until heat is generated and then bring your palms to your eyes. Leave the hands there until they’ve cooled.

7. 5 minute Pranayama and Meditation for Wellbeing

Take 5 minutes for a gentle breathing and meditation exercise. Sitting comfortable in your chair or outside in a quiet place close your eyes and begin to bring your awareness to your breath. Set a timer for 5 minutes (so you won’t be late to return to work). At first just notice the breath without changing it. Become aware of its texture, the quality, it’s depth without judging or labeling it. Then begin to deepen your breath. Inhale for 4 counts. Pause at the top of your inhale. Exhale for 4 counts. Pause at the bottom of your exhale. Breathe in this manner for 10-15 breaths. Then allow your breath to return to normal. Follow your breath for the remaining time with eyes closed. When your mind wanders off bring your awareness back to your breath.

Yogi’s I’d love to hear how these yoga exercises influence your mood, attitude, and productivity in the office. Feel free to shoot me a private message. I am also available for corporate yoga sessions and would be happy to guide your staff in weekly/biweekly/monthly in-office yoga classes. I have plans available for both small and large offices. Contact Autumn for more information.

18 Tips to Freshen Up Your Yoga Practice

vinyasa-yoga-greece-retreat

What happens when you get bored with your yoga practice? I know that it happens to me. When I fall off the yoga wagon, especially as a yoga teacher, I begin to have feelings of guilt sneak in. Feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “How can I teach yoga if I’m not practicing?” So I want you to know that I’ve been there. I feel your frustration, your dismay, your guilt… I’m here to tell you to “let it go”. I’m not going to tell you to stop practicing, but I will encourage you to let your yoga practice take on a different form. Here are my tried and true tips for getting over your boredom and feeling good about your yoga practice again.

  1. Take class with a different teacher. I might get some flack here from other yoga instructors for saying this, but it’s okay to explore. It’s okay to skip your regular class and drop-in to another teacher’s class. Each teacher has their own style, their own way of cueing, and their own way of formatting their classes…. going to another teacher’s class gets you out of your rut and out of autopilot. You will likely experience different poses (woohoo!) and different benefits and alignment cues that you can bring back to your regular classes. And hell we all suffer from avidya (ignorance), which means that our own teacher can give us the same message every class and we may not be ready for it, so we don’t hear it… well you might be ready for it in another teacher’s class… or they may word it in a way that it is more relatable to you.
  2. Incorporate more pranayama, meditation and chanting. For most of us, myself included, we get stuck in asana land. I love asana land! It’s fun and pretty and challenging, but sometimes we forget about the other parts of yoga like pranayama, meditation, chanting. Learn some new pranayama (kapalabhati, brahmari, sitali, ratio breathing, etc.). Kick start your meditation practice. There are so many meditation resources out their now (including apps that make it ridiculously easy to practice). Or delve into the world of Bhakti and learn a new chant or two.
  3. Go on a retreat. Attending a yoga retreat (or teacher training) is a great way to get your asana in gear! It’s okay to spend a little extra money on YOU, on YOUR development, on YOUR growth. Don’t feel guilty about it. Go on a retreat with your favorite teacher OR one you’ve been following on social media OR be bold and courageous and book with someone you find online in a destination you’ve always wanted to check out (I would recommend doing some homework before you hand over your hard earned cash though).
  4. Try a new-to-you style of yoga. If you always practice Bikram, try vinyasa. If you always practice vinyasa, try yin. Maybe delve into the world of Ashtanga Yoga… why not? Be adventurous in your yoga practice.
  5. Change your environment. If you always practice in a yoga studio head on over to the local gym and try one of their classes. Or find an outdoor class at a local park or lodge. Seek out SUP yoga (yoga on stand up paddleboards)… you’ll get an awesome work out, be challenged in new ways and likely you’ll get wet… at least at your first class.
  6. Schedule up some yoga playtime. Connect with one of your yoga buddies and schedule some time to just play… maybe play with a little Acro yoga or partner poses or help each other work on those inversions and arm balances. Likely you’ll have fun in the process and make/keep a good friend too.
  7. Karma yoga. Okay it’s not asana, but it’s equally important. Find a volunteer gig at a local community center, teach a yoga class for underprivileged kids… even better get your yoga buddies together and do a little karma yoga as a group.
  8. Find another hobby. Eek! I know I said it, but it’s okay to branch out. I would recommend finding another active hobby like mountain biking or tennis… something that gets your body moving. Being active in other ways will make you appreciate your yoga practice that much more… especially when your muscles start to get tight and that range of motion you used to take for granted is gone.
  9. Read a yoga-ish book. I recommend How Yoga Works by Gesne Michael Roach and Christie McNally
  10. Take a trip. Allow yourself to be inspired by giant trees, mountains, lakes and even the hustle and bustle of a new city. Strike a pose and have fun with it. Put your feet in the dirt. Swim out to that tiny island in the lake. Enjoy the sun on your skin.
  11. Get a new mat or yoga leggings. I know, I know. Not very yogic of me, but whatever. Buy yourself something nice. Get a new Manduka mat in a fun color or get those wild and crazy patterned Liquido leggings you’ve been eye-ing forever. Give yourself a little extra incentive to get on your mat.
  12. Change your playlist. Okay this only applies if you practice at home, but music can have a huge impact on your practice and your mental state.
  13. Sign up for one of the online yoga class platforms. Create a home practice, try new teachers, practice when it works for you. Love it.
  14. Join a social media yoga challenge. A fun way to connect with other yogis, see new postures and new variations of familiar postures. Have fun with it.
  15. Focus on a specific body part or type of pose. Perhaps strengthening or lengthening the hamstrings. Focus on backbends or inversions. Perhaps focus on opening up your hips. You get the picture. Give yourself something to explore and also something to work toward.
  16. Schedule up a yoga and wine night with your friends. Why not? Yoga doesn’t have to be in the studio to be wonderful. Take turns teaching and follow it up with a glass or two of wine and some snacks.
  17. Practice shorter practices. Set a timer and allow yourself to be present on your mat for 5, 10, 20 minutes. Keep it simple so you don’t get discouraged.
  18. Go on a weekend yoga getaway. There are so many options these days. Go to a festival, conference, workshop or retreat in a different city or state. You’ll have the opportunity to get your practice back on track, explore a new place and make new yoga friends.

 

You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to practice 5 times a week. It’s okay to be inspired by other things. Your practice will always be with you. Know that your practice doesn’t need to look like everyone else’s practice. Remember it is YOUR PRACTICE. It is yours and yours alone AND it is a practice. Don’t beat up on yourself. Dig deep find that inner fire. It’s there. We will see you on your mat when you’re ready.

Yogis do you have any other tips or tricks you use when you get bored with your yoga practice? I’d love to hear them.

 

Love and Light,

Autumn

Autumn Adams
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Autumn Adams

Owner, Founder, & Retreat Leader at Ambuja Yoga
Autumn founded Ambuja Yoga in 2014 to share her love of adventure, yoga, and travel with her fellow yogis. Ambuja Yoga has morphed into more than she could have ever dreamed and she is thrilled to have a "job" she loves. She is forever grateful for the opportunity to facilitate personal growth and self love through yoga while taking yogis to off-the-beaten-path destinations worldwide. Follow Autumn on Instagram @autumnadamsyoga.
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5 Benefits of Practicing Yoga While Pregnant

prenatal yoga in bend oregon

I have been fortunate to work with many pregnant mamas through my prenatal yoga class in Bend, Oregon at Midtown Juniper Yoga. It is always a blessing and joy to watch these strong, beautiful women share their vulnerability, while nurturing themselves and their babies throughout their pregnancies. Often times the women that come to my class already have a yoga practice, but occasionally prenatal yoga is their introduction to yoga and what a wonderful loving way to be introduced to the practice and to experience all of the benefits of prenatal yoga.

Here I would like to share the benefits of prenatal yoga with you. If you’re reading this you’re likely already pregnant or know someone that is. Congrats! What an exciting time. As you seek out prenatal yoga classes in your area I encourage you to talk with the instructor before class. Find out their training. Do you like their energy? Do they also teach birth prep? Do they have a network of providers that they can recommend? Can they offer you modifications for both prenatal yoga classes and regular group classes?

Here are 5 Benefits of Prenatal Yoga:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety.
  2. Improved sleep.
  3. Relief from common pregnancy related aches and pains.
  4. Connection with a community of women and your baby.
  5. Improved muscle tone, strength and flexibility.

Contraindicated Yoga Postures During Pregnancy:

  1. Deep twists.
  2. Prone postures (lying on your belly).
  3. Deep backbends.
  4. Inversions.
  5. Lying on your back for a long period of time (savasana).
  6. Standing with legs wide for an extended period of time.

Don’t let this list of contraindicated postures scare you. They can all be modified into a beautiful and fulfilling yoga practice… a practice where you can enjoy all the benefits of prenatal yoga.

I could easily make this list twice as long, but I’d like to keep it short and simple.

Need pregnancy yoga resources or live somewhere where you cannot find a prenatal yoga class? Here are some highly recommendable resources:

Autumn Adams
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Autumn Adams

Owner, Founder, & Retreat Leader at Ambuja Yoga
Autumn founded Ambuja Yoga in 2014 to share her love of adventure, yoga, and travel with her fellow yogis. Ambuja Yoga has morphed into more than she could have ever dreamed and she is thrilled to have a "job" she loves. She is forever grateful for the opportunity to facilitate personal growth and self love through yoga while taking yogis to off-the-beaten-path destinations worldwide. Follow Autumn on Instagram @autumnadamsyoga.
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What’s A Bandha?

Hey yogis, I’m here to clear things up about the bandhas. I’ve been to more than my fair share of group classes in which the yoga instructor says something along the lines of “engage mula bandha” without any extra guidance. There are so many new yoga students right now and honestly I’d like to give you a hand, to demystify the bandhas, and encourage you to keep coming back to your yoga mat time and time again. I know experiential guidance is even more powerful than just reading, but this blog post will at least get you started in the right direction… if you still need more clarification feel free to message me or join me for a Bandha Workshop.

WHAT ARE THE BANDHAS?

Bandhas are the activation and engagement of muscle fibers, in strategic areas in the body, that support in the toning and lifting of the systems of the body against the natural laws of gravity. Bandhas are used to stabilize the spine AND to draw kundalini upward.

3 Main Bandhas:

  1. Moola bandha (mula bandha)- The root lock
  2. Uddiyana bandha- Upward flying lock
  3. Jalandhara bandha- The throat lock

2 Secondary Bandhas:

  1. Hasta bandha- hand lock
  2. Pada bandha- foot lock

 

MULA BANDHA- “THE ROOT LOCK” (PERINEUM OR CERVIX RETRACTION LOCK)

Mula bandha forces the prana upward and prevents it from escaping out the lower outlets.

Mula Bandha Basics:

  • Begin by practicing in a seated posture.
  • Isolate the different parts of the pelvic floor (front-stopping pee, back-stopping poo, middle- pulling in and up (without engaging front or back))
  • Lift from the perineum (male) or cervix (female); similar-ish to a kegel

Activating and engaging mula bandha tones and supports the internal organs of the lower abdominal cavity and brings much needed awareness to the space between the pubis (front) and the coccyx (back). This connection between front body and back body is usually saved for the psoas muscle, which due to habitual patterns of hip flexion in what we do for work and play is one of the major causes of lower back pain. Continuous awareness of the space between the pubis and coccyx and sitting bones in yoga poses and transitions can help alleviate already existing tightness, tension and/or lower back pain and can reduce the potential of lower back injury.

Gross (clench) vs. Subtle (lift) action

Practicing with a more gross, clenching sensation is okay when you’re learning to identify the muscles necessary to perform the bandhas, but in a regular asana practice the engagement is much more subtle… perhaps 20%.

Get Familiar With Your Pelvic Floor

Physiologically, this bandha is a diamond shape hammock of muscles that spans the space between the bones of the pubis in the front, the two ischium (sitting bones) on the sides and the coccyx in the back. These are your coccygeus, iliococcygeus, and the pubococcygeus muscles – known together as your Levator Ani, which form a part of the pelvic floor.

perineal-muscles-pelvic-floor-diagram

UDDIYANA BANDHA (THE ABDOMINAL RETRACTION LOCK)

Uddiyana bandha unites apana and prana at the navel center, the bandha described is called the rising or flying bandha.

uddiyanabandha-

Uddiyana Bandha Basics

  1. To learn Uddiyana Bandha practice in either a seated posture (with spine long) or standing posture with feet hip width and hands on thighs.
  2. Inhale fully inflating belly and lungs then exhale fully and forcefully until empty.
  3. With the breath held out draw your diaphragm in and up to hollow out the belly.
  4. Release your breath and uddiyana bandha when you cannot hold the breath comfortably any longer.
  5. Never exhale or inhale AS you move the body into the lock. Breathe after or before movement as appropriate.

Uddiyana Bandha increases vitality, toning effect on the visceral organs, muscles, nerves and glands, stimulates blood circulation and absorption. The heart is gently massaged and squeezed by the upward pressure of the diaphragm. The suction or negative pressure in the thorax draws venous blood up from the abdomen into the heart and at the same time, arterial blood is drawn into the internal organs.

Chakras most affected are:

Manipura (solar plexus), Anahata (heart), & Vishuddi (throat).

*contraindications: stomach or intestinal ulcers, uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma or raised intracranial pressure

JALANDHARA BANDHA (THROAT LOCK)

jalandhara-bandha-yoga-journal

Jalandhara prevents an upward leakage of prana. Jalandhara regulates the circulatory and respiratory systems, stimulates the thyroid to balance metabolism, and is said to cure diseases of the throat.

Jalandhara bandha basics:

  • Can be practiced in most postures.
  • Full expression: shoulders up, chin to chest and jawline back.

Chakras most affected are:

Vishuddi (throat)

*contraindications: uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease

MAHA BANDHA (THE GREAT LOCK)

Maha bandha, or the Great Lock, is a combination of mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. Maha bandha should only be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Resources:

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction No More!

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/uddiyana-bandha-step-by-step

http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/net-bearer-bond/

Autumn Adams
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Autumn Adams

Owner, Founder, & Retreat Leader at Ambuja Yoga
Autumn founded Ambuja Yoga in 2014 to share her love of adventure, yoga, and travel with her fellow yogis. Ambuja Yoga has morphed into more than she could have ever dreamed and she is thrilled to have a "job" she loves. She is forever grateful for the opportunity to facilitate personal growth and self love through yoga while taking yogis to off-the-beaten-path destinations worldwide. Follow Autumn on Instagram @autumnadamsyoga.
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