Back Bend = Heart Open = Free Emotions
Back bends are heart openers. They can incite powerful emotions that range from euphoria to irritation to anxiety. The most important thing is to go into it with no expectations and listen to your body. The next most important thing is to just be. Be present in whatever comes your way; you are a part of it and trying to forget it or trying to hold onto it creates clutter in the mind and body. Whether the back bends bring storm or sunshine sit with it and let it be. Storms always pass and sunshine always cycles in and out of every day.
Bhujangasana (Baby Cobra Pose)
Lie on your stomach.
Rest chin on mat and gently press tops of feet into the ground.
Place palms next to chest with fingertips under the shoulders.
Without compromising the position of the hands, draw the elbows towards one another.
Inhale and exhale twice.
On the third inhale lift the chest off of the mat. Keep pressing the tops of the feet into the ground.
Send the heart up and forward. Keep lifting and pressing the shoulder blades towards the chest. Loosen the muscles in the face- let the back muscles do the work. Do not force the bend. Instead, allow the pose to progress gradually and smoothly as you tune-in to the curve of your spine.
Hold the pose for 15-30 seconds. This is roughly five full breaths (inhaling until you cannot fill up anymore and exhaling until you cannot expel air anymore).
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
*Note- fold the mat or place a blanket underneath the hips for cushion.
Continue to lie on your stomach from Bhugangasana (Baby Cobra Pose) with arms resting alongside the body, palms facing up.
Place chin on mat.
Bring big toes to touch.
Make a fist with both hands.
Draw the fists together underneath the torso; think of pressing the armpits towards each other.
Inhale and exhale twice.
Inhale engage the core, gluts, and legs; with control, lift the feet off of the mat (as high as you can) towards the ceiling. Do not bend the knees. Exhale.
Keep the chin stretched out on the mat in front of you.
Do not strain or force the pose.
Use your muscles.
You may press into the arms to help lift the legs higher.
And, don’t forget to breathe.
Hold for 15-30 seconds. To come out of the pose, gently lower the legs down to the mat. Release the arms and press the right or the left cheek into the mat. To relieve tension, press the pubic bone into the mat and gently shake the hips from side to side.
Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
You may want to use a blanket or keep the mat folded for this pose as well. Continue to lie down on your stomach from Shalabasana (Locust Pose).
Rest chin on the mat.
Place hands at your side, palms up.
Bend the knees and drop heels towards the body.
Reach both hands behind you and grab the ankles.
Flex the feet and lightly press the ankles into the palms of your hands to square off the shoulders.
Inhale and exhale deeply.
Inhale and kick into your hands to lift the chest and thighs off of the mat.
Draw toes together.
In order to create a curve in the body reach the chest forward by drawing your shoulder blades together. Use the resistance of the kick to draw the chest up. Place the weight of your body onto the navel (weight should not be resting on your hips).
Hold the pose for 15-30 seconds.
Slowly lower the knees and the chest. Release the ankles and allow the feet to rest on top of the mat. Release the hands at your sides and place the left or right cheek down. Press the pubic bone into the mat and shake your hips from side to side for a few moments. Keep the breath moving. Switch cheeks and repeat.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie down on your back; hands at your sides.
Bend the knees and place the feet near the sit bone; keep feet hip distance apart (you should be able to graze the back of your heel with your middle fingers as your arms lay along the side of your body).
Raise the hips and press into the feet. Think of squeezing a block in between your thighs as you send the knees forward.
If possible, shimmy the shoulder blades together to draw the arms in. Interlace the fingers underneath the hip line; if not, leave hands by your sides or use the hands to support the low back. You may also lower the hips, move feet closer to the sit bone, grab the ankles and then raise the hips again. Choose what’s best for your body.
Continue to lift the chest.
Keep chin down.
Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds.
Slowly come out of the pose by lowering upper, middle, and then lower back. Draw the knees into the chest and windshield wiper the knees from side to side to help relieve tension in the back.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose or Wheel Pose)
Lie down on your back.
Place hands at your sides.
Bend the knees and place feet near the gluts (the tips of the middle fingers should be able to graze the backs of the heels).
Raise the arms.
Bend the elbows.
Place the hands next to the ears with the finger tips pointing towards your feet. Lift hips.
Press into the bottom knuckles of the palm of your hands to lift the head.
Place the crown of the head on mat.
Look at the elbows and wrists. Make sure elbows are over your wrists.
Press into your hands and feet as you raise the hips and chest.
Engage the quads; drive the knees forward; drive the chest forward. Think of a yourself as a wheel.
Relax the gluteus maximus.
Send the heart forward.
Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat three times.
Come out of this asana with control. Slowly bend elbows and lower the crown of the head onto the mat. Bring chin towards chest and release the upper, middle, and then lower back. Bend the knees into the chest and rock from side to side. This will release tension in the back.
Vyaghrasana (Tiger Pose)
Come onto your hands and knees.
Place the knees under the hips/hip distance apart.
Keep hands under shoulders/shoulder distance apart.
Press into the bottom of the knuckles to suction the palms to the mat.
Inhale and lift the right leg.
Flex the foot and hold for one to three breaths.
Inhale and raise the left arm, fingers reaching towards the space in front of you. Hold for one to three breaths.
Bend the right knee and drop the heel towards the gluts (think of kicking the buttocks). If you feel wobbly, engage the core and press down into the left knee and right palm. Make sure you have your balance.
Reach the left hand behind you to grab the top of the right foot or ankle. Kick the right foot into the left hand as you send the chest forward.
Look forward and up.
Hold the pose for 15-30 seconds.
Slowly release the hand and place back on the mat. Slowly lower the leg and place the knee on the mat. Complete posture on the other side (left leg/right arm). If there is any tension after the pose shake the hips from side to side (like you’re wagging a tail).
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Kneel on the mat, knees hip distance apart, with the tops of the feet resting on the mat.
Roll the shoulders up and back.
Place hands on hips with thumbs supporting low back.
Inhale and puff up chest. Exhale.
Inhale and slowly arch back, chin to chest, and gently press thumbs into the low back.
Keep the shoulders away from the ears- think of drawing the shoulder blades near the spine and then pushing them towards the heart.
Send the hips forward and press down into the knees.
Engage the legs and the gluts. Visualize the quads pulling away from the femur. [If you are a beginner or feeling tight stay in this position and breathe. Make sure you continue to press the hips forward and lift the chest. If not, read on.]
Walk the hands down the back of the legs and place palms on the soles of the feet. Slowly release the head and look back without straining the throat/neck. Keep pushing the hips forward and lifting the chest. If the shoulders have crept up towards the ears, start over. To start over walk the hands back up the legs and hips; support the low back as the chest comes forward and the spine resumes a neutral position. Then, repeat the above. Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds. Slowly come out of the pose and sit on the backs of the heels for one to three breaths.
Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (One Legged-Royal Pigeon Pose)
*This is an advanced posture. It is best to try this pose under the guidance of a professional yoga instructor before attempting to practice and perform Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana on your own. This pose can cause serious injury if done incorrectly. Respect your body.
After camel, come onto your hands and knees. Press back into downward-facing dog.
Inhale and lift the right leg.
Exhale, bring the shoulders over the wrists and drop the right knee outside of the right wrist. Adjust shin to rest as parallel to the front of the mat as possible.
Slide the left foot back and sit. The right leg will be in a reverse L-shape at the front of the mat.
Look behind you to make sure the left leg is pointing out straight behind you and not angled to the left; the top of the left foot will be on the mat.
Square off the hips- Sit the right glut on the mat and draw the left hip forward.
Press the tailbone down to lengthen the spine.
Draw the rim of the pelvis back so it does not tilt too far forward.
Make sure you are comfortable/balanced in this position before continuing.
Bend the left knee and drop the left heel towards the left glut.
Reach the left arm behind you, grabbing the big toe with two peace-fingers. Gently pull the leg towards you- get it as perpendicular to the ground as you can.
Carefully and with control, swing the elbow out to the left and up towards the ceiling.
Send the heart forward and arch back.
Raise the right arm, bend the elbow, and grab the left foot.
Keep arching back and sending the heart forward. Try not to pull the foot towards the body, rather use the foot like a base from which you are holding in order to bend back.
Touch the sole of the foot to the crown of the head.
Hold the pose until you have set…that is, deepen into the pose as much as possible.
TO NOTE: The above instructions are rudimentary. They are a quick notes version of the true pose. One of my favorite instruction articles on Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana is found in Yoga Journal (link below). The article was one of my supplements to the hours spent with an instructor. Every person’s body is different and there are different ways you can come into this pose. The article gives an in-depth, more technical and challenging approach. One of the key differences is which hand to grab the back foot with. It is easier to grab the left foot with the left hand and vice versa, but as the article will point out, it can compromise the balance in the pelvis and the spine. The article is also full of preparatory asanas. It’s a gem and I highly recommend reading it if you love the royal pigeon pose.
Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana- Yoga Journal
“Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” -Deepak Chopra