Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
This sequence unwinds everyday stress and upper-body tightness created by our digital devices.
Computer work, web surfing, and even texting on mobile phones are all culprits in creating tightness in the chest, shoulders, and back. According to the Two Fit Moms, Laura Kasperzak and Masumi Goldman, a backbending practice is a great way to relieve everyday stress and loosen up a tight upper body.
The biggest misconception about backbends is that you need a flexible back in order to do poses such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) or Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Yes, you do need some mobility in your back, but the entire front body and shoulders can make or break a backbend. With consistent practice, you will find that your backbends will be deeper and easier to perform.
See also Jason Crandell’sOpen Shoulders, Bigger Backbends
As with any asana, take backbends slowly, and never force your body into postures. Start off your practice with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations), then try these 7 poses to fire up your entire front body and shoulders. Make sure to keep your abdominals engaged and more importantly, make sure to breathe!
See alsoTwo Fit Moms’ Good Morning Flow
Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
This is one of Two Fit Moms’ favorite poses for stretching the upper back and shoulders. Beginners should consider modifying the pose by placing their forehead on the mat. This will help relieve any potential strain in the neck.
High Lunge, Crescent Variation
While in High Lunge, open your chest and shoulders by bending your elbows to create 90 degree angles with your arms (think goal-post arms). Whether you choose to practice this variation or a more traditional version of the pose with arms extended straight overhead, be sure to keep your head aligned between your arms. Do not let the neck strain by allowing the head to fall back. Remember to engage the back quadriceps and sink your hips toward the floor to activate your hip flexors and psoas muscles.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Come into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) Clasp your hands behind your back, drawing your shoulder blades together to open up the front of your shoulders and your chest. Keep your core engaged as you take a mini-backbend, moving your clasped hands toward your mat.
See also Jason Crandell’sHow to Backbend Better
Reclined Half Hero (Ardha Supta Virasana)
Begin with a gentler modification of this pose. Rather than lying down completely, begin by leaning back onto your forearms. You should enjoy a nice stretch in the front of the thigh. If you would like to increase the intensity of the stretch, lie back further. You should not experience any discomfort in your knee.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is a great backbend for beginners. Use a block under your sacrum to relieve stress in your lower back. To take it deeper, lift up one leg, then the other.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
There are many levels of depth for practicing Ustrasana (Camel Pose), from keeping your hands on your low back for support to tucking your toes under for less of a backbend to the full posture shown here. Find the variation that works for you. Just remember to keep your hips pushing forward so your thighs remain perpendicular to your mat.
See alsoGlute-Free Backbends?
Upward Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Make sure your front body and shoulders are warmed up before trying Upward Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Keep your feet parallel, hug your knees and thighs in toward the midline of your body, and don’t forget to breathe!