What’s Up Wednesday: Gentle Back Extension Poses

Namaste! It’s hard to believe it is already Wednesday with the holiday on Monday! I hope you had a great Labor Day! It was so hot where I live, I honestly did nothing except teach a great class in the morning!

This week I am focusing on back extension poses or backbends. In order to maintain the health of our spine, we want to make sure we are moving the spine in all of the ways it is meant to move….these are flexion (e.g., forward fold), extension (e.g., backbend), rotation (e.g., twist), and lateral flexion (e.g., side bend). As someone who has had back issues in the past, I am always very careful when backbending especially since my thoracic spine has limited mobility.

Despite any limitations, I believe we can gently work with our bodies to be able to do backbends. Much of it comes down to listening to our bodies and backing off when things are starting to feel as if we’re struggling. Your backbend might not look the way you want it to initially, but over time, with practice and patience, you might just get to where you’d like to be!

These poses are also important to incorporate into our practice because they help open up the front of the chest. In our daily lives our hands are in front of us, texting or doing computer work and our chests and shoulders round forward. We need to continue to incorporate these poses frequently into our practices to keep from developing kyphosis (excessive outward curvature of the spine which causes hunching of the back). Additionally, these poses are safe for those with osteoporosis/osteopenia.

Below you will find some very gentle back-bending poses. One of the main things I recommend doing before going into a backbend is to lengthen the spine – think about lifting up out of the pelvis then arching back. I hope you will give these poses a try and let me know what you think!

Last week, I demonstrated a variation of Hero Pose. Here is another version. I really like this pose as a warm-up before beginning your practice. It is great for ankle mobility, opening up the quadriceps, and improving the posture. This is also a great pose for those who have trouble sitting in a cross-legged position.
To come into this pose, put a block between your legs and sit down (you might need two blocks). You will then bring your hands behind your heels, imagine lifting your chest towards the ceiling and arch back.

In this modified camel pose, you will get the benefits of opening up the front of the chest, energizing the body, and strengthening your back, glutes, and quadriceps.
When coming into this pose, imagine your thighs are glued to the wall in front of you (you want to maintain that perpendicular thigh-to-shin angle). Place one hand on a block outside your shin, raise the other arm straight up, lengthen out of the pelvis and then arch back. Hold for 5-8 breaths and then repeat on the other side.

This pose will help to strengthen your back, glutes and open the hip flexors. This is one of my favorite ways to open up the hip flexors.
To enjoy this pose, bring your legs into a lunge position. Extend one arm overhead, reach up lengthening through the side body. Place the other arm at the low back and traction the low back down with your arm.

Sphinx pose is one of the poses I teach often in my classes. I feel this pose is so great to help open up the front of the chest to counter balance all of the looking down we do during the day. Most students can do this pose with relative ease. This pose really helps to open the chest, lengthen the abdominal muscles, and is a great stress reliever.
To come into this pose, lie on your stomach. Place your elbows underneath your shoulders, energetically slide your hands toward you to feel more opening in the front of the chest across the collarbones, and gaze straight forward so your neck is in a neutral position. You will also want to feel a slight engagement of your glute muscles.

I hope these modifications will help you out! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or if you try out any of these modifications.

Be Well!

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