Beginners: Prepare for bigger backbends with props
Backbends are my favorite part of a yoga practice. When you bend, your world literally gets turned upside down. I find seeing things from a different perspective help relieve stress and anxiety. Backbends also increase blood flow and energy and help with back pain. You strengthen your arms, wrists, thighs and buttocks while stretching your chest and lungs. I also find backbends to be very empowering.
As a beginner you may feel discouraged when you see all these amazing pics on social media of yogis bending their spine in ways you have never seen before. But you should know that some of these "super-yogis" are former gymnasts. And unless you are genetically blessed, it takes years of practice and a smart approach, so you won't hurt yourself.
Don't be too hard on yourself if you can't go into a full backbend, such as Bow Pose (Urdva Danurasana), right away. Make smart choices and get your spine used to going against its natural curve. The more often you practice, the easier it will get. Promise.
A great way to begin, is the use of props. Blocks, straps, pillows or walls can help you to lift yourself up, open your shoulders or go a little deeper into the bend. In this post, I have gathered my favorite backbend poses with props. I hope you will find this helpful and get to enjoy these backbends as much as I do.
Shoulder Opener with Blocks
1) Place your palms on your mat in front of you and come onto your knees, keeping them at hip distance, in line with your feet. With your pelvis lifted, lean into your hands and tuck your toes under.
2) Grab two blocks and place them on medium height slightly in front of you underneath your shoulders. Bend your elbows and place them, one at a time, on the blocks, so the fingers are pointing up. Interlace your hands and press your palms together. You can walk your knees farther away from the blocks a few inches to create more length in your back.
3) Draw your hips toward your heels, as you lower your chest toward the ground. Relax the base of your neck and gaze down between the two blocks, keeping your shoulder blades apart.
4) To deepen the pose, move your hips further back. Make sure to walk your knees back as well to keep them directly under your hip joints. If you feel comfortable enough in this pose, you may want to release your forehead toward the ground.
5) Relax the muscles in your neck, breath softly and release your armpits down. Draw your fingertips toward your back to give yourself a good stretch. Hold here for 8-10 breaths, before you slowly come out of this pose.
Upward Facing Dog with Blocks
1) Come down onto your hands and knees. Place your blocks in front of you about shoulder distance apart. Place your palms on the blocks with your fingertips facing forward and make sure that your wrists are right beneath your shoulders.
2) Draw your belly in and step back into Plank Pose. Release the tops of your feet down, as the knee caps lift up and away from the floor. Keep pressing your hands down into the blocks so that your elbows straighten and your chest and legs lift. You may have to adjust your feet forward or back, in order to keep your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists. Pulling your chest forward, broaden your collarbones, and press your shoulder blades into your chest, coming into the full Up Dog pose. Keep your neck neck long and gaze forward. If you begin to overarch your lower back, remember to draw the tailbone down.
3) Hold here for 5-8 breaths. To release, bring your knees to the floor and shift your hips back to come into a table top position. Then take your hands off the blocks.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) with straps
If you can't reach your hands to your ankles, the use of a Yoga Strap is great for this backbend.
1) Lie on your belly with your arms alongside your torso. Bend your legs and wrap the strap around the fronts of your ankles, holding on to the ends of the strap. You can shorten and secure the strap by wrapping it around your hands. Try keeping your legs hip width or maybe even together.
2) Take a deep inhale and lift your chest and thighs off the floor. Look straight ahead and press your legs into the strap and away from your hands. This will help you to lift your chest up higher. If you feel comfortable enough in this position, you can begin to slowly shorten the strap and the distance between your hands and ankles.
3) Continue to take deep long breaths and remain in the pose for about 10-15 seconds. On an exhale, release the strap and slowly lower your legs and chest to the floor. You can rest your head on one cheek and relax, before you want to try and go up again.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) with Bolster
A bolster will help you to lift your chest as it presses into your abdomen, while keeping the lower back long.
1) Place a firm bolster on your mat. Lower your body onto the mat, making sure that the bolster will be underneath the front of your pelvis, across the pubic bone. It should feel like the bolster is helping you rock your pelvis in the appropriate position. Once you feel like it's in the right place, bring your forearms down onto the mat with the palms facing down in front of the bolster. With your feet hip distance apart, you are now in Sphinx Pose.
2) Take an inhale and bend your knees. Reach your arms back to hold the outer edges of your ankles. Adjust the position of your bolster, if you feel like you are falling forward or you are not getting enough support.
3) Feel the deep arching of the thoracic spine and hold here for about 3-5 breaths, before releasing the pose.
Supported backbend with a Bolster
1) Place a bolster or a thickly rolled blanket crosswise on your mat. Sit in front of your bolster with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Add a blanket, if you like to support your head. Lie back and place your lower ribs on the bolster.
2) Open your feet a little wider to open up the sacrum. Take an inhale and stretch your arms overhead, resting the tops of your hands on the floor. You can also bent at the elbows into a cactus position.
3) Close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breath. Try to calm your mind and relax. Stay here for as little as 5 breaths or for up to 10 minutes for a deeper relaxation.