Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
I’m pretty sure I was born with cement poured into my upper back.
For the longest time my tight upper back made me dread poses like Scorpion because no matter how hard I tried to ‘melt my chest’ it always felt like hitting a wall. Of course, this never stopped me from trying, but imagine my glee to discover that there was a hybrid scorpion pose called Charging Scorpion! I first saw Dharma Mittra do this pose and found myself cocking my head side to side with intrigue just like my dog does when I mention any words that have to do with calories. I immediately went to the wall to play around with this new Scorpion Pose and fell in love—my upper back moved! It not only moved, it felt divine. It has become one of the only poses where I can find movement and release in my upper back and I use the second step regularly to get my back ready and happy for deeper backbends.
Just like any Challenge Pose I post, this one can take some time! If you’re used to practicing regular scorpion this will throw you off as your gaze and chest is moving towards a hollow position as opposed to the curl we normally do. Give yourself time to adjust and remember the best way to go deeper is laugh and enjoy when you want to panic and grip. Work the Dolphin variation, when you’re ready go upside down into step two and then venture (or lightly charge) forward when you’re body gives you the green light!
Start on all fours preparing for Dolphin Pose with a slight variation! Interlace your fingers as if you were preparing for headstand and place your elbows shoulder width apart. Keep your head off the ground as you curl your toes under and work your legs toward straight (or as straight as they’ll go). Walk your feet in towards your elbows but instead of looking forward like you would in a traditional Dolphin, take your gaze towards your legs. Neutrally drop your neck without placing your head on the ground. Create a deep firming of the upper outer edges of your arms around the bone towards your face to gain stability. It will feel like you’re trying to shrink your arm pits into your sockets. Draw your face and chest through your arms back towards your legs until you feel a nice sensation bubbling up in your upper back. Hold for a good 8-10 breaths and repeat if wanted.
Create the same arm set up but this time at the wall—place your knuckles where the floor and base board meet. Take your gaze slightly forward and curl your legs back into Dolphin Pose. Lift one leg and lightly kick up bringing your feet to the wall (Note: Your head stays off the ground—it’s like a Headstand/Forearm Stand hybrid). Once your feet come to the wall, slowly take the entire length of your legs to the wall so that your feet, calves, hamstrings and hips are resting against the wall. Keep your belly engaged and tailbone lifting towards your heels to prevent any sitting in the lower back. Begin to firm the upper outer edges of your arms in and root down into your elbows. Neutrally drop your head so you’re gazing into the middle of the room and start to bring your head through your arms and chest away from the wall while the legs stay put. This should feel like a pretty amazing shoulder release, and if you feel any pain, make sure to put more effort into firming your outer arms in to protect the rotation of your shoulders.
Continuing on from Step 2, simply keep your hips at the wall and bend your knees with only your bottom and toes touching. Keep the core engaged, arms firming and chest/head reaching towards the middle of the room.
From Step 3, bring one foot away from the wall as you draw that knee in towards your chest. Start to take your gaze up towards the bent knee that’s pulling towards your heart. Take a few breaths and then switch legs. If you start to feel confident, keep one knee bent into your chest, gaze towards your knees, arms firm and play with lightly tapping the second foot away from the wall.
As you get more and more comfortable with this balance you can keep the thighs and knees squeezing together as you come into full balance. If you get to the level where you’re kicking up at a wall, try kicking up into the forearm stand with your fingers interlaced and your head off the ground. Start with a medium bend in both knees and then work the action of the chest and head pulling through the arms. Once you feel the transition in your chest, draw the knees as deep to your chest as you comfortably can and look up. Oh yes, and have fun!
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.