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Back Builders

What is the most appropriate way to approach yoga for flexible students? I have a slightly older male student who is unusually flexible. Should he simply go with his extreme flexibility, or is he missing the muscle-building aspects of the asanas? He is taking yoga due to back injuries suffered in a car accident. He can walk fine without support or braces, but he is more limited in his back's abilities and flexibility.
— Angie

Read Ana Forrest's response:

Dear Angie,

Let's start with his injury, which may give him the impetus to change how he does his yoga overall. Your student's injury can be a great teacher for him to learn something about himself and the way he moves. The pain in his back is motivation to change and explore new ways that can help alleviate and heal the pain.

I suggest you teach him abdominal-strengthening poses, supporting the back and overall posture. Salambasana (Locust Pose) strengthen the upper, mid and lower back. Spinal twists (such as the ones listed below) are great strengtheners as well as toners of the back muscles and belly. With these twists, remember to keep the belly off the thigh and to elongate the torso.

Poses and brief descriptions:

Elbow to Knee

  1. Start lying on your back with the, knees bent directly over the hips, feet active, and the shins parallel to the floor.
  2. With the hands clasped behind the neck, inhale, and lift the head and shoulders up off the floor.
  3. Hold the breath and lift the tailbone up away from the floor.
  4. Exhale, bring both elbows toward left knee.
  5. Straighten the right leg, pull the belly in toward the spine.
  6. Inhale back to center, keep head up. Lift the tailbone.
  7. Exhale, bring the elbows toward the right knee.
  8. Straighten the left leg, and pull the belly in.
  9. Repeat steps 1 through 8, five to ten times.

Abs with a Roll

  1. Fold your mat lengthways into thirds then roll it tightly.
  2. Lie on your back. Place the roll between the thighs and onto the pubic bone.
  3. Clasp the hands behind the head, and bring the legs straight up toward the ceiling, feet active.
  4. Inhale, hold the breath, lift the tailbone, and squeeze mat between the thighs.
  5. Exhale, bring the head and shoulder up, squeeze the mat, lift the tailbone, and pull the belly in.
  6. Inhale, head down.
  7. Repeat five to ten times.

Frog Lifting Through

  1. Lie down on your back and bring the legs up and feet off the floor.
  2. Straddle the legs wide, with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flexed.
  3. Clasp the hands behind your head.
  4. Inhale, curl the head and shoulders up.
  5. Exhale, curl pubic bone toward navel.
  6. Pull the belly in.
  7. Inhale, set the pelvis down, keep head up and repeat five to ten times.

Agni Sara in Horse Stance

  1. Stand with your feet 3-1/2 feet apart, and bend the knees to a right angle.
  2. Bring the hands to the top of the thighs with the elbows straight.
  3. Exhale fully through the mouth.
  4. Tuck the chin into the collarbone.
  5. Pull the belly into Uddiyana Bandha (Stomach Flies Up), spreading the ribs.
  6. Relax the belly, still holding the breath out.
  7. Continue to pull into Uddiyana and release at a slow pace until you must inhale.

Salambhasana (Locust Pose, variation)

  1. Lie on your belly.
  2. Clasp your hands behind the back, keeping the thumbs close to tailbone, tuck the tailbone toward the heels.
  3. Squeeze the ankles together, keeping the feet active.
  4. Inhale, lift the chest and legs off the floor.
  5. Relax the neck. Hold five to ten breaths.

Salambhasana (Locust Pose, with Shoulder Shrugs variation)

  1. Lie on your belly, placing your hands four inches to the outside of the shoulders.
  2. Inhale as you lift the hands, chest, and legs off the floor. Remember to keep tucking the tailbone toward the heels.
  3. Inhale, as you spread the upper back.
  4. Exhale, squeezing the shoulders, shoulder blades, and elbows toward each other.
  5. Inhale, spreading the upper back.
  6. Repeat three to five times.
  7. To release, keep tailbone strongly tucking toward heels.
  8. Lie down.
  9. Breath into the lower back, ballooning the lower back toward ceiling.

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose, or Twisting Warrior)

  1. Step into Warrior I, left leg forward.
  2. Exhale, hook right elbow over left thigh.
  3. Make a fist with the right hand.
  4. Brace left hand on right fist.
  5. Lift torso off thigh, lengthen torso, twist.
  6. Pull shoulders away from neck.
  7. Relax the neck.
  8. Hold for five to eight long breaths, breathing through the back.

Twisting Lunge

  1. Start from Downward-Facing Dog, step the left leg forward, and come into a Lunge.
  2. Bring the back knee on the mat, (flip the mat over to have a little more padding under the knee), align hips over the back knee.
  3. Exhale. Put the right elbow over left thigh.
  4. Make a fist with the right hand, place the left hand on top of fist.
  5. Lengthen the torso and twist.
  6. Relax the neck as you pull the shoulders down and away from the neck.

These poses will build strength and improve circulation throughout the back and encourage healing.

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Reader Comments

Greg Bradshaw

Thank you so much! These are variations on a lot of what I do. Now I can combine to make a new routine for this week. Very helpfull as usual, thanks again Greg B.

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