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Warm up well, then let Budig walk you through the steps to work your way into this big backbend.
I just came off of a marathon photo shoot for my newest book. For eight days, we were working 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Needless to say, my asana practice suffered and I was excited to get back on my mat. For whatever reason, I was particularly pumped to work up to this challenge pose—a really deep backbend. I’m not one of those yogis who was blessed with natural flexibility. I’ve had to work hard in that department, especially when it comes to backbends. In retrospect, maybe this peak pose wasn’t the best “welcome back” choice for my ego, but I’m still glad I did it. It’s always good to tackle a practice that challenges you and reminds you that these poses are lifelong teachers.
WARM UP I highly recommend doing a full practice leading up to this pose. Mine consisted of a good warm-up, some surya namaskars, plenty of lunges, and ample backbends, including Bow, Camel, and Upward Bow Pose before I dug into this sequence. Happy backbending!
Start on your belly. Bend both of your knees and extend your arms back with your palms facing in and thumbs down. Grab your ankles and begin to push your shinbones back into your hands as if they could press someone away from you. The action of your legs will propel your chest higher, but make a conscious effort to lift your heart away from your belly button. Gently draw your lower belly up to elongate your lower back. Hold for 8 breaths. Repeat 3 times.
Half Frog Pose
Stay on your belly and prop yourself up onto your forearms. Bend your left knee and externally rotate your left arm to reach it back with your palm up and elbow bent. Slide your palm onto the top of your foot and ‘hitchhike’ your thumb up and in until your entire hand rotates so that your fingers are pointing in the same direction as your toes. Use the heel of your hand to press the foot down as you simultaneously fan your toes and press them into your hand. The subtle engagement of your glutes helps release your psoas, but don’t grip the buns here! Press into your right forearm to draw your chest upward. Keep your straight leg active and press all five of your toes into the mat. Hold for 8 breaths and switch sides.
Half Bow Pose with strap
Ardha Dhanurasana with strap
From Ardha Bhekasana, lasso the ball of your right foot with a yoga strap (make it just big enough for your foot to slide through). Prop yourself up on your left forearm as if in Sphinx Pose. Reach your right arm back with the elbow bent and palm up. The closer to the foot you grab the strap, the bigger the backbend—so plan accordingly. Once you have the strap, rotate your elbow out, up, and in (think tight to your face). If this feels too easy, set up again and reach closer to your foot. The goal is to eventually grab the foot without a strap. Hold 8 breaths and switch sides.
See also Lord of the Dance Pose with a Strap
Pose Dedicated to the Sage Gheranda with Strap
Gherandasana with Strap
Here’s where things get complicated. Most people should continue to use the strap as a training tool for as long as necessary. I’ll coach you through this using the strap, but know you can work with just the foot (see next slide).
Begin propped up on your forearms. Lasso your right foot with your strap and keep the extra length handy. Reach back as we did in step two to bring your left foot into Half Frog. Continue to press down as you reach back with your right hand to grab the strap or foot. On your exhale, rotate the elbow out, up, and in. Gently press your right foot back as you continue to press the left foot down. Do your best to keep your knees hip-width apart or as close as possible. Press down into your core to help elevate your chest. Hold here for a few breaths or up to 8. Release and switch sides.
Pose Dedicated to the Sage Gheranda
Gherandasana with Strap
If Half Bow Pose (Ardha Dhanurasana) with the strap came easily for you, you can ditch it and try the full pose without the prop.
Again, reach your right arm back with the elbow bent and palm up. Rotate your hand to hold on to the big toe side of your foot. On your exhale, rotate your elbow out, up, and in. Gently press your right foot back as you continue to press the left foot down.
TRY MORE Advanced Challenge Poses
About Kathryn Budig