At Shades of Yoga, we’ve got your back in more than one way. As you’ll quickly learn when you come to complete your RYT 200 or RYT 300 yoga teacher training with us, we place a lot of emphasis on getting each pose exactly right. That takes more than just proper alignment, it also requires that you activate the appropriate bandhas, engage the muscles involved in the pose and breathe into those muscles, keeping your attention squarely focused in the here and now and on the asana.
Speaking of getting the fundamentals right, let’s focus on poses involving the back. A strong back is absolutely necessary to achieve a successful regular yoga practice and frankly affects all aspects of your life. Whether you’re exercising or sitting down, you need strong, healthy back muscles to do so properly. Yet, according to the Mayo Clinic in the United States, back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor or miss work, and as we age, we often feel it first in our spine. As you get older, you’ll realise that a strong spine is your best defense against the vagaries of time.
Back to basics
Backbends are among the prettiest poses, but it can be challenging to maintain the correct alignment while doing them. Without the proper alignment and if we rely solely on flexibility, our joints can easily get injured in these poses. That’s why during our teacher training we always approach backbends step by step, to ensure a) the sustainability of the pose and b) to allow the body to safely enter the pose.
Here are some tips to achieve those goals across a variety of poses involving the back. Most importantly, do not force it! Acknowledge and respect that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, and remember that asanas build upon each other, each pose (involving the back) that you successfully master will make it that much easier to do another more advanced pose involving the back. Build your practice as follows.
Start by working on your cobra. Lay flat on the floor, look back and ensure that your legs are hip-width distance apart. Then place your palms firmly onto the mat, fingertips facing forward and in line with your chest, and elbows pressing against your ribs. Press your hips down and feel the lengthening of your spine. Inhale, slowly press up and lift up your chest off the mat. Squeeze your elbows tighter into your ribs, and lengthen your spine, including your neck.
Warning: the point of this pose is not to push your torso up with your arms and drop your head down. That’s unhealthy for your spine! The goal is to achieve extension of your spine instead.
Cobra with hands off the mat
Then, with those same alignments, raise and hover your palms over the mat. Now relax your glutes. This way, you will use your back muscles and not rely on your arms to push upwards. Hold for five breaths, then exhale and release.
Lay flat on your stomach on your mat. Extend your arms next to your body, palms facing up. Make sure that your legs are hip-width distance apart, then press your hips down and feel the lengthening of your spine, especially on your lower back. Inhale, lift up your arms, open your chest and simultaneously lift up both legs, balancing on your hips. Keep your shoulders back and down. Spread your fingers and toes. Try to lift up equally in between your arms and legs. Hold for five breaths, then exhale and release.
Next, still laying on your stomach, bend both knees and reach back with your hands and grab hold of your ankles. Now flex your feet, making sure that your knees remain at hip-width distance apart and press your hips down. Then inhale, and kick back your legs and lift your chest and pull your arms in. Balancing on your hips, try to lift equally between the legs and the chest. If at any moment you feel discomfort in your knees, back off and return to practicing Locust pose. Hold for five breaths, then exhale and release.
After completing any backbend, we need to flex the spine to release the tension that we have been building during the extension of the spine. This is easily done by coming into Child Pose. After completing the Cobra, Locust and Bow poses and from your lying (on your stomach) position, press your hands and knees into the mat and roll back into Child Pose, with your buttocks touching your heels. You may either have your knees together or apart to deepen the stretch, and likewise, your arms may be alongside your torso with your hands towards your feet, or you may stretch them out in front of you, which also helps to stretch out the upper back. Push your hips down gently onto your heels and feel the welcome relief.
Well done! Ready to learn more? Take a look around our website and see what it takes to embark upon your journey towards yoga teacher training or expand your consciousness with our carefully curated selection of courses on a variety of fascinating subjects.