Make a Playdate with Your Mat

By Elizabeth Winter, sequence by Sianna Sherman  |  

Anusara Yoga teacher Sianna Sherman believes in the power of play, a concept that’s known in yoga as lila. “Play can so easily be dismissed or even trivialized, as if there’s no profundity. But the most profound truths often emerge when you feel free and playful,” she says. Sherman contends that a playful approach not only builds self-awareness, but it also encourages you to accept your idiosyncrasies. “When you let play lead the way, you recognize that every situation in life is an opportunity for greater heart energy.”

To tap into the playful side of asana, Sherman created the uplifting backbending sequence on the pages that follow. She starts the practice with standing hip openers to help establish the blueprint for the hips and legs in backbends. “Once you establish the basic form of your backbend, then you can practice a wide array of variations,” she says. The basic form she refers to includes widening the inner thighs and pelvic bones as you root your tailbone down. These actions will keep your lower back spacious and prevent compression as you arch up and back.

As you move through the sequence, pause at the beginning of each pose to feel your breath and to settle into the foundation of the pose. Hold each pose for five breaths, moving your breath into your back body.

Before You Begin

Open To Grace: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and set an intention.
Align Your Spine: Do several rounds of Cat-Cow.
Salute: Do 3 to 5 rounds of your favorite Sun Salutation.

1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Come onto all fours, with your wrist creases parallel to the front of the mat. Claw the ground with your fingers so that the muscles on the underside of the forearm tone and lift. Breathe into your back, feeling it broaden with every inhalation. On an exhalation, release your heart toward the ground, softening between your shoulder blades without collapsing in your lower back or armpits. With strong arms and a soft heart, lift your hips and straighten your legs for 5 breaths.

2. Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog), variation

On an inhalation, lift your left leg toward the sky. Bend your left knee and turn your hips so that your kneecap points toward the left. Stay here for 5 breaths. Then straighten your leg again and rotate the thigh so that the kneecap faces the ground. On an exhalation, lower the foot to the floor and do the other side before returning to Downward-Facing Dog.

3. Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)

From Downward Dog, step or hop forward into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and inhale as you come up to Tadasana (Mountain Pose). From there stand sideways on your mat in a wide stance with your feet parallel. Turn your right foot out and your left foot in. Bend your right knee and place your right arm on your thigh or bring the fingertips to the floor outside your right foot. Press the top of your left thighbone back and scoop the right buttock under, as you open your torso to the left. Extend your left arm alongside your ear and stay for 5 breaths. On an inhalation come up to standing, and then repeat on the other side.

4. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), variation

Return to your wide stance. Turn your right foot out and your left foot in until your pelvis squares toward the front foot. On an exhalation, slide the left hand down your back leg as you curl your torso into a backbend. Rest your left hand on your hamstring as you continue to bend back, extending the right arm alongside your ear. After 5 breaths, inhale and bring your torso upright. Exhale as you switch sides.

5. Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose), variation

From your wide stance, walk or jump your feet together and stand in Tadasana. Bend your left knee, bringing the heel in toward your left buttock. Take hold of the inside of your foot with your left hand and raise your right arm up alongside your ear. Square your hips toward the front of your mat, and on an exhalation, tip your torso slightly forward as you stretch the left leg back and up. Stay here for 5 breaths before releasing the left leg. Do both sides.

6. Pigeon Pose

Come into Downward-Facing Dog. Bring the right knee forward between your hands, rotate it out to the side, and place the outer leg on the floor. Lower the left leg to the ground. Square your hips toward the front of your mat, and on an inhalation, isometrically draw the knees toward each other. You’ll feel your muscles engage. On an exhalation, fold forward and rest your forehead on the floor. After 5 deep breaths, inhale to come up and move through Downward Dog to the other side.

7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose), variation

Come back to Pigeon Pose, with the right leg forward. Bend the left knee, and take hold of the foot with your left hand, keeping the right hand on the floor or on your front thigh for leverage. If possible, spin your hand over the top of the foot so the fingers face forward. Lift the left side of your chest as you bend the left elbow to bring the foot in toward the outer left hip. If you can balance, rest your right hand on your right thigh. Stay for 5 breaths. Step back into Downward-Facing Dog before doing the second side.

8. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Lie on your stomach. Bend both knees, flex your feet, and hold on to your outer ankles. Keeping the thighbones parallel to each other, press the ankles back and root your tailbone toward the floor. On a deep inhalation, lift your head, torso, and legs to come into Dhanurasana for 5 breaths.

9. Eka Hasta Ustrasana (One-Handed Camel Pose)

Kneel with your hands on your hips and lift through your chest. On an exhalation, curl into your upper back as you simultaneously lift your right arm alongside your ear and take your left hand to your left heel. Reach back as far as you comfortably can. Stay for 5 breaths. On an inhalation, bring your torso back to upright. Sit on your heels, then repeat this side before moving on to the second side.

After You Finish

Bow: Sit in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) and bathe in your inner light. Take Balasana (Child’s Pose) and make an offering from your heart.
Recline: Do Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) on both legs.
Rest: Take Savasana (Corpse Pose), with hands over your heart for the first few breaths.