Benefits This calming yet uplifting backbend stretches the deep hip flexors, and it also opens the chest, upper back, and shoulders; it requires a combination of stability and mobility—as well as total presence.
From kneeling, step your right foot forward as you extend your left foot backward. Press your right foot and left shin and foot into the floor. On an inhale, reach your arms forward, up, and then behind you; your right knee can come forward a bit as you extend your spine. Take a few breaths here, then on your next inhale press down though your right foot and left shin to reach and return upright. Explore how you’re using your breath—you need to be breathing without strain. The breath is your prime mover and your most intimate partner in this dance. Repeat this arcing movement with breath awareness and a relaxed countenance.
Reach back with your left arm, externally rotating the upper arm so your palm faces up. Bend your left knee and grab your left big toe with your thumb and forefinger (or use a strap around the ankle). Elongate your left arm and keep your torso pointing forward as much as possible. Take a breath or two, and relax your eyes, jaw, and tongue.
Release your hips toward the floor and open across the front thigh of your back leg. Bend your left arm and lift your elbow, rotating your arm externally. Stabilize your hips by imagining the sides of your pelvis squeezing in toward the midline. Lift the sides of your trunk (as with Warrior I). Take your right arm overhead.
Externally rotate your right upper arm and take hold of your left foot with your right hand (or use a strap). Reposition your hands on your left foot to secure the clasp. Take a breath. Pull upward on your left foot as you simultaneously raise your back ribs and sternum and release your head back toward your foot. Keep rolling your outer arms forward to draw your elbows in. Let your shoulder blades lift and rotate upward to help raise your side trunk and support your neck as it extends backward. Stay here with soft eyes and steady breathing for a few breaths (or longer, if you can remain relaxed, alert, and at ease). Come up and out the same way you went in: by slowly releasing the foot with your right hand and allowing your left arm to reverse the path that it took going into the pose. Repeat on the other side.
Place a chair at the wall and a folded mat in front of the chair. From all fours, facing away from the chair, bend your left leg to rest your left foot against the chair. Step your right foot forward. Come to an upright position and allow your hips to come forward. Reach your arms overhead, then back toward the chair as you breathe steadily. If your hands are able to touch the back of the chair, take your hips forward and, if possible, take your head back to your foot.
This pose offers us a wonderful opportunity to experience the power of the pause. We learn to slow down and feel the moments that make up our movements. We stop along the way to breathe and reflect. We pose and repose. We are learning to do and perceive at the same time. This deliberate pausing (and breathing) synchronizes the body, mind, and breath so that they dance together. This way, we can stop, readjust, and back off when there is either unsteadiness or too much resistance, ultimately moving toward the effortless effort described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra.
About Our Pro Carrie Owerko is a New York–based Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, Laban Movement Analyst, and playful-practice enthusiast. She travels the world sharing her love of inquiry and the practice of Iyengar Yoga.