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If you have tight hamstrings or have to round your back to keep your legs straight …
Try sitting on blocks, blankets, or a bolster at a height that allows you to maintain a small curve in your lower back (natural lumbar lordosis). Tighten a belt around your feet (just above your heels) and the middle of your pelvis. As you press your feet into the belt, it should hold your pelvis upright, reducing strain on your lower back and hip flexors. Press your palms into the props and straighten your arms (bend your elbows if your shoulders shrug).
See also Easy Pose
If your lower back tires easily …
Try holding a sandbag above your head, which will create resistance for your spine and arms to press against while anchoring your sitting bones. Place a second sandbag on your lower shins, which will help ground the lower end of the pose, giving your hip flexors and lower back more leverage with less effort. (Do not take your shoulders down your back when your arms are up! It can compress nerves and tissues in your shoulders and add tension to your lower back.) You can also place a belt around your waist to help lift the full circumference of your trunk.
See also Poses for Your Lower Back
If you don’t feel a lift in your spine and chest, or if you have wrist pain …
Try placing two blocks slightly behind you on a slope by resting them on other blocks. Bend your elbows, and press your palms into the bottom of the slanted blocks with your fingertips pointing toward the floor. Having the blocks behind you allows you to generate more forward momentum to lift and support your lower back and trunk.
See also Chest-Opening Yoga Poses
About Our Pro
Alison West is the director of Yoga Union and the Yoga Union Backcare & Scoliosis Center in New York City where she leads yoga teacher trainings, a Backcare and Scoliosis Certification Program, and a Slings and Ropes Certification Program. She also holds a PhD in art history from New York University. Transitioning from sculpture to the human form has led her to 35 years of practice and teaching. Learn more at yogaunion.com.