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I just returned from a fabulous weekend teaching in Boulder at the Hanuman Festival among some of my favorite friends and teachers in the world. I came home feeling exhausted but unable to wipe the smile off of my face because I feel immense gratitude. I know gratitude is a word that is thrown around quite a bit, but I am completely basking in it.
This festival had so much HEART. It is a homegrown festival full of people that truly adore yoga. Everyone was smiling this weekend, no one was in a rush to get anywhere and laughter was even more common than the sound of Om.
I wrapped up the weekend teaching my backbend flow class I call, “All is Full of Love.” Everyone was dog-tired and sore by this point and I knew I had to work some special magic to keep people safe from collapsing. We started out sweet and slow, and by the end of the class, laughter was back, hamstrings were no longer cranky, and open hearts and chests abounded. Our intention for the class was to not only be open to giving love but to receive it as well. This week’s challenge pose is an incredibly beautiful and deep backbend that opens the heart to its fullest potential. It also puts us in a vulnerable position both physically and mentally. I truly believe the best way to succeed in this posture is by following the intention “I am open to both giving and receiving love.”
Try it out. It happened to me all weekend long and I’m still basking in the afterglow. Backbend your way back into a place of love and soak it up!
To get into Upward-Facing Bow (or Wheel Pose, Urdhva Dhanurasana), begin on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the mat hip-width apart. Place your palms shoulder-width apart directly behind your shoulders so the fingertips are facing toward your feet. Lift your hips as you press into your palms and come onto the crown of your head. Hug the elbows in so they stack over your wrists, keep the shoulder-heads plugged into the shoulder sockets, and curl your upper chest toward the back of the room. Straighten your arms to lift up. Drive down into your heels as you press the shinbones back to elevate the hips. Rotate your upper inner thighs down to soften your low back and relax your head and neck. Take 8 breaths and rest or continue directly into Step 2.
Staying in Wheel, lift your right foot slightly above the ground. Start to “slap” the foot back toward your head so that the toenails are pressing down into your mat. Try this a few times working on getting your foot closer toward your head.
Once you can’t bring your right foot in any further, begin to wiggle your left foot away from you several inches as you begin to lower your right shin onto the ground. For many of us, this will be the step we stay with for quite some time. This is a HUGE psoas stretch, so no pushing or shoving—remember yoga is here to make us feel better! If you can safely and comfortably place your shin to the ground, continue on to Step 4.
Keep your right shinbone down and left knee bent. Lower your right forearm down onto the ground and creep it toward the direction of your right foot. Try to grab the foot or eventually the entire heel. You can gently rotate the right elbow out to walk the arm in, but as soon as you have your foot, hug the elbow back in toward the midline. Follow by dropping the left forearm down and walking it in to grab your toes, foot, or heel. Press down into both elbows and curl your face toward the sole of your foot as if you could eventually rest your forehead into your foot. Wiggle your left foot forward until you can completely straighten the leg, pressing all five toes down into the mat. Roll the upper inner left thigh down to help stabilize the pelvis. Take 5 breaths. Walk the left foot back in so the knee is bent. Release your foot and place the palms flat behind you shoulder-width apart. Press back up into Upward-Facing Bow Pose, sliding the right foot back into its original position. Bend the knees, tuck the chin, and come down to rest.
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 MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.