The Vinyasa Show Artwork
Season 5 - Episode 6

Intelligent Backbending

40 min - Practice


Soar into the depths of your heart. Rosemary guides us in a slow, steady, and deep backbending sequence. We begin in a supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) and progressively build towards Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Laghu Vajrasana (Little Thunderbolt Pose), and Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose). We move through Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) and abdominal work to promote a stable, smart, and expansive backbend, closing with a deep hip-opener to ease us into a well-deserved final relaxation.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket, Block

About This Video

Feb 08, 2016
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(ocean wave) Hi and welcome back. Today we're going to work with back bending, one of my personal favorites. Lots of variations in this practice, and please, please, please, listen to your body, listen to your spine, listen to your back. You can take it as gently or as deeply as you feel for today and it changes as we know from moment to moment, from day to day. So really tune in and listen on your body and do what feels best.

So for this practice we're going to use both a block and a blanket. We'll start on our backs, yum yum in just a simple supported bridge. So go ahead and lie down. Take your hips up and take the block under the hips at any height. It can be as low as this or to the biggest height.

And you might start on one and then after 4, 5, 6 breaths take it a little higher. Don't feel like you have to max out right away. There'll be plenty of opportunities. And you want to make sure the block is under your sacrum, not the low back lumbar curve, please please please. Okay and then go ahead and rest your arms wherever they're the most comfortable.

You can close your eyes if you'd like. For now the feet are just about hips distance parallel to one another. You can feel the whole front body open. The heart down through the solar plexus, down into the belly, the hip flexes, even the quad muscles get a little opening here. Take this slowly, you've got a couple moments.

This is your chance to shift gears, to arrive for your practice, start to shed the day, the thinking mind, any distractions. Check in with your whole body. Check in with your breath. It's up to you here if you're comfortable and content maybe you stay there. If you'd like, you might try walking your feet out towards that back edge of the mat maybe just a little.

Maybe quite a bit, maybe they extend all the way and kind of naturally roll open. If this scrunches the low back at all, don't do it. If it feels good, if it opens the hip flexes and thighs a bit more, wonderful, just enjoy. We'll be here for about five more breaths. (deep breathing) One more big inhale and exhale.

Let it go gently, press through your feet, the legs are still extended, walk them back in and then ground through the feet. Lift the hips and move the block off to the side. A couple options here. You can walk the feet about as wide as the mat and let the knees drop in, releasing a little through the low back and sacrum. Or you take Supta Bada Konasana the soles of the feet together and the knees drop out.

It's really intuitive, the body will know what it needs. A couple breaths. All right, if you're in Supta Bada draw your knees back up and then just gently roll to your right, press yourself up and grab your blanket. So we want this just kind of just under, beneath the shoulder blades. If you don't have a blanket a pillow will work, really anything relatively soft but still with some support.

Rolled up and as condensed as possible. And then this again is fairly personal, so you can play with it. You'll lie back with the blanket just at the bottom edge, the tip of the shoulder blades. So supporting a little opening through that upper back. You can adjust a little up and down finding the sweet spot that works for you.

If it's too high you can unroll it so you're a little closer to the earth. If you're not getting enough sensation maybe you need two blankets. Just find your own edge and then arms rest where they're comfortable and you choose here feet on the earth, knees bent, very neutral with the legs. Or again Supta Bada Konasana style, soles of the feet together, knees fall open. Let yourself rest here.

The beauty of these supported back bends is the body is given the opportunity to relax a little while also beginning to warm and prep the back for deeper back bending. And this pose in particular really beautiful counter to most of our day to day lives. All the rolling forward in the shoulders, the driving, the desk and the computer work. The constant protection of the heart. We can balance this out by relaxing, surrendering and completely opening through the chest and the heart and the shoulders.

Give it about five more breaths. (deep breaths) If you are aware that you are holding at all physically, energetically, emotionally, if you notice the mind looping around a repetitive thought, see if you can set that aside for the time being. Maybe part of your intention for the practice today is to let some of that go. Maybe even all of it. All right, and then very gently if the knees are wide, draw them back up and then slowly roll again to your right and press yourself up onto your hands and your knees.

Take a moment with your props so that they're off to the side, nice and neat and mindful and then let the hands line up with the shoulders. Let the knees line up with the hips. Very slowly at first, after being in those deep supported back bends a little cat house, so inhale, lift your tailbone, lift your heart and your gaze. As you exhale, round the back, tuck the tailbone, tuck the chin, pull the belly up to the spine. Shake out through the wrists if that feels good.

A few more cycles. Again inhale, lifting through the heart and the gaze, exhale to round, and then go ahead and take three more cycles at your own pace and as you do really tune in to how your back and your spine feel in this moment. Maybe it's supple and open and strong and energized. Maybe things feel a little contracted or sore or tight. It's the beauty of the practice we can meet all of it wherever we need to.

One more breath. And then go ahead and find a neutral spine. Root the hands. Inhale, tuck your toes, and exhale, we'll press all the way up and back into downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana. And give yourself five breaths here.

You can pedal the feet, maybe shift the hips a little side to side. Whatever feels best. Warming into the back body. And then everybody just a couple more breaths here, and then slowly with your inhale begin to walk the feet forward to the front of the mat, Uttanasana, forward fold. The feet are about hips distance, bend your knees a little, a little more if there's tension, tightness in the hamstrings or the lower back.

Then five breaths, hands can drop, hold the elbows or brace on the legs. You might even sway the torso a little side to side. Just let it all release. All right, and if you're swaying, sway back to center. If you do have hold of your elbows, let the hands drop down to the earth slowly on your inhale we're going to roll up to Tadasana.

Take your time and when you do arrive, exhale. Roll the shoulders down the back, finding that open chest and heart and let's keep the feet about hips distance for now. With your next inhale take the arms out and up. Nice and easy, interlace the fingers here. Turn the palms to the sky and very, very, very gentle back bend, just the beginnings here.

Feeling into the foundation. So the temptation, especially if you're uber-flexible, is just to, don't do this, splay into the low back. We want to avoid that by dropping down through the tail bone lifting from the low belly and letting the back bend come from this mid and upper back. Think about drawing the back of the heart up and through. And for now maybe it's just a few inches.

Strong legs, strong center, open heart. A couple more breaths. And then go ahead and inhale, reach straight up, and exhale, let your arms float down and shake that out a little bit. Samasthiti, step the feet together, take the hands to prayer at your hearts center, three simple Surya Namaskara's to warm the body. Inhale, reach out and up.

Exhale, flat back out and down. Inhale, half way up. Exhale, hop or step into your plank pose, and you choose, lower knees first or Chaturanga. Inhale, soft cobra or upward facing dog. Exhale, downward facing dog.

Three breaths, long spine. Play with this as you like. One, two. Bottom of the exhale, softening the knees. Hop or simply step back to the front of the mat.

Inhale, lengthen half way. Exhale, bowing forward. Inhale all the way up. Exhale, arms to the side. Inhale, reach it up.

Exhale, fall forward. Inhale, lengthen halfway. Exhale, hop or step back and lower. Inhale lift the heart. Exhale, back to downward dog, three breaths.

One, two, three, again soften in the knees as you exhale. Hop or step forward, inhale lengthen. Exhale full. Strong center, flat back, inhale rise up. Exhale, arms to the side.

Okay, last cycle, inhale rise. Exhale fold. Inhale come half way up. Exhale hop or step back and lower. Inhale lift the heart.

Exhale go back, downward facing dog again, three breaths. So from here we're actually going to come all the way through to sit and lie down on the back. Bottom of the exhale soften in the knees. Hop or step through and go ahead and lie all the way down. Then hug your knees in towards your chest and kind of rock the body side to side just a little love for the core to prep for intelligent back bending.

Let's start with arms beside the body. You might even lift your hips and slide your hands under, supporting the lower back and then take the legs straight up. Draw the deep lower belly in and up. Try to soften through the neck and shoulders as much as possible and then slowly lower the legs. Maybe just about half way to the earth, if you feel pretty strong through the core, maybe a little bit lower and then pull in and up through the center and lets hold for five.

Four, three, two, and then inhale slowly rise with control rather than momentum. Exhale back down. Inhale up. Exhale lower. Let's just do three more.

Inhale up. Exhale lower. Inhale. Exhale. Last one, inhale up.

Exhale lower and we're going to hold this one again. Hover here, pull the belly in and up. If it's too intense take the legs a little higher, maybe even bend the knees. Three, two, one. Inhale up and exhale, just release.

Hug the knees into the chest. Rock yourself side to side and then some slow bicycles. So bend your knees, legs are kind of 90 degree angle. Calves perpendicular to the floor. Take the hands behind the head and interlace the fingers.

We'll try to keep the elbows wide here. Really strong through the center. So go ahead and come up with the head and the chest, and as you exhale twist to your right and extend the left leg. Inhale go ahead and come back to center. Exhale to the left extend the right leg.

Inhale center. Exhale right. Inhale center. Exhale left. Inhale center.

Exhale right and center. Left and center. Right, slow and steady and deep. That's actually more challenging for the abdominal muscles than if you just use the momentum to power through. Right and center.

Left and center. Three more to each side. Right, squeeze it in, and center. Left and center. Right and center.

Left and center. So this time as you exhale, go right, hold, extend your left arm past the right leg, curl the belly in. Five, four, three, two, and inhale center. Exhale twist left, extend the right arm. Hold the belly in, five, four, three, two, and one.

Inhale center and exhale release. Take a big inhale into the belly and exhale, let it go. All right, that should do it for now. Rock and roll, just rock yourself forward and back a little bit. And then come all the way up.

Plant the hands, shoot the legs back into plank pose. Stay there, big inhale. Exhale, lower. Inhale, lift the heart. Let's pause in upward facing dog.

If you're in cobra that works too. Feel the heart let the shoulders come back. Breathe into the center. Stretching those muscles out a little bit. Big inhale and exhale.

Go ahead and take it all the way back, downward dog. Big inhale here. Exhale. Go ahead and come down onto your knees. Moving into a few cycles of ustrasana and variations.

So we'll be here for a little while. If you like extra padding under your knees feel free to fold the mat over once or twice. You might even grab the blanket. You want enough firm foundation that you feel steady. You don't want to be mushing around.

But not so hard that it hurts the knees at all. So a little more love for the core. Right hand to the belly. Left hand to the lower back. We want this line from the knees all the way up though the legs through the torso intact.

No back bend yet at all. Big inhale and then ease back. Feel your legs and your core engage and then draw it back up. Easing back, exhale. Inhale up.

Exhale. Inhale up. Switch the hands, take three more. Back into it and rise. A couple more, back into it and up.

Last one, ease back, strong legs, strong core, tall spine. And back up. Okay, take the hands to the hips. So core work for core work is not my favorite thing in the world, but core work to support back bending is really intelligent. So feel that strength through your center supporting you, especially if you're hyper-flexible.

This way you're engaging your muscles instead of splaying out into the low back and the joints. Again, any variation, any modification, listen to the body. Let's start really gently. Drop down through the tail bone. Lift up from the belly.

Lift up from the heart. Take the shoulders down the back. And think about here the hips going forward and the heart lifting up. That creates the back bend. Not necessarily going back in and of itself.

That might be your edge, if so, good, honor it. Otherwise take your hands all the way back to the heels and breathe here five breaths. One, two, three, four, five. Strong legs, strong core, inhale up. Exhale go ahead and simply sit back on the heels.

Steady your gaze. Give yourself a few breaths to let that settle. And then we're coming on up again. So again, if that felt pretty intense you're going to stay with it and simply repeat it. Maybe you'll find a little more space in the back bend this time around, maybe not.

No big deal either way. If you'd like to take it a step further, we're going to draw the hands to the calf muscles or even towards the knees for lago-bha-drasana. This is not for everyone. So again, listen to the body, do what serves. Drop the tailbone.

Remember that engagement through the center. Draw all the way up, offer the heart to the sky. Big inhale, and then as you're ready exhale to the heels or to the calves. Maybe you stay there. Maybe if the hands are comfortable on the calves you drop all the way back onto the head.

Go mindfully. Five breaths, one, two, three, four, five. If you can come out of it right from here, awesome, more power to you. Otherwise take the hands down behind the head and on an inhale press into the earth and come all the way up. And again just sit back on the heels.

Steady gaze, take a few breaths, let the whole body ground. Notice how you feel physically and energetically. One more breath. Here we go again. Up onto the knees, your choice, simple ustrasana, camel pose, maybe just hands on the hips, maybe to the heels.

If you liked that previous variation you can repeat it, keep working with it, or Kapotasana, we're going to take the hands all the way back to the earth and then try to walk them in towards the feet. Let it be an exploration, no better or worse, just see what's possible. Big inhale, that same lift up through the front body, that same strength through the foundation. And when you're ready, exhale, go back. Once the hands are down, if you're going for this variation, release the head to the earth and begin to walk the hands towards the feet.

You can curl the toes around the fingers to help curl it in. If that's your edge, awesome, if you want to walk the feet a little closer and the hands a little closer to the tops of the feet, go for it. Again just find your own edge and breathe. Five, four, three, two, and one. From here, if you're in the Kapotasana variation, plant the hands behind the head, press into the earth to straighten the arms and hold here.

Five, four, three, two, and big inhale to come up. Good, exhale. Sit back. Steady gaze, steady breath, again notice how you feel. And then easing out of this as you're ready, gently inhale, come to the hands and the knees, root down through the hands, tuck the toes, inhale.

Exhale, downward facing dog, give yourself at least three breaths here. Lengthen out through the spine again. Slow gentle Vinyasa, inhale to plank, exhale, knees first or Chaturanga. Inhale, cobra, upward dog. Exhale, downward dog.

And then moving into pigeon. Inhale, take the right leg to the sky. Get a lot of length in the body. And as you're ready, draw the right knee, right shin towards the front of the mat. Since you have a block and a blanket for this practice, if you'd like it under that right hip bone go for it.

Otherwise just as is. Inhale, long spine, lift up through the heart. And exhale slowly. Ease yourself down. And as always, if pigeon doesn't work for any reason in your body you can roll onto your back.

Thread the needle instead. We want to give the body a full ten breaths here. Rounding and releasing after all that back bending. Taking a breath deep down the length of spine into your back, your sacrum, your hip and glut muscles. Five, four, three, two, one.

Slowly inhale, walk your upper body back in and up. Root the hands, exhale, tuck the back toes, lift the back knee. Use the strength of the arms and the core. Inhale, right leg goes back to the sky. Shake it out a little bit.

And then back to downward dog. Left leg, inhale to the sky. Exhale, draw the knee and the shin forward again. Pad it if you'd like. Easing down and big inhale, lifting through the heart.

Exhale, melt to the earth. Again a full ten breaths here, nice and slow. Letting the whole body reset. Noticing if there are any areas that feel tender or sore. Take a breath there.

About five more breaths. One, two, three, four, and slowly inhale, walk it back in and up. Root through the hands. Exhale and tuck the back toes. Lift the back knee.

Strong arms and center, inhale, take the left leg back to the sky. Again you might shake it out, circle it round, whatever feels best. And then return to downward facing dog. Take a big inhale. And then exhale, just gently bend the knees.

Come all the way through to sit and go ahead and lie down. When you touch down draw the knees in towards the chest. Gently rocking the body a little side to side. And then moving into a twist. You can keep the legs as is.

You can wrap the left leg around the right. Really any twist that feels best. Knees to the right, left arm to the left. Soft gaze following that left arm. Really important after deep back bending to counter with a forward fold or deep twist.

Take your time here. Five, four, three, two, and one. Gently inhale, draw back to center. Move your hips a little to the right. Just simple with the right leg over the left.

And drop the knees to the left. Right arm to the right. And breathe down the length of the spine, deep into your lower back. Soft gaze or close the eyes. Five, four, three, two, one.

Inhale back to center. Exhale hug the knees back in towards the chest and then a simple happy baby. Knees go wide, holding the edges of the feet. And you can keep this neutral, you can gently rock a little side to side if you'd like. You might even play with lengthening one leg and then the other.

A little more release for sacrum and low back. And a big inhale and exhale release, shalosana. Anything you need here to be as comfortable as possible. Maybe the blanket goes under the knees. Maybe you cover the body and-or the eyes.

Set yourself up. That deep deep back bending can be incredibly powerful for the whole body physically and emotionally, energetically. So you want your Savasana to feel so good. Once you are situated, begin to let the whole body drop and rest. Stay soft and together.

Let's take a big inhale. And then open the mouth, let it all go, exhale and rest here. (light breathing) Then gently drawing your awareness back to your breath, if you have the time and space and you'd like to stay in Savasana please feel free. Soak this all in as long as you'd like. Otherwise gently on an inhale extend the arms up and over.

And exhale bend the knees, feet to the earth. Roll to the right. Guide yourself up to a comfortable seat. And just rest the hands, close the eyes for a moment. Transitioning mindfully from your practice into the rest of your day.

And then keep the eyes closed, hands to prayer at the heart, and with your exhale a soft bow forward. Namaste. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As you know, the heart is home to so much. So if you feel enlivened and invigorated, awesome.

If it stirred up a little bit of tenderness, just be compassionate with yourself. Stay with that, be curious. Thank you so much and namaste.


Kate M
2 people like this.
After a bout of house cleaning - which involved lots of spinal flexion, this was just perfect. Such divine release! And it also gave me lots of sequencing ideas to play with for my Tuesday flow class...! Thanks, Rosemary!

Rosemary Garrison
That's wonderful to hear, Kate ! House cleaning can sure takes it's toll on the body. I'm happy this flow helped. Enjoy!
2 people like this.
I loved this practice. It was easy to adapt and have fun with camel variations. I had the urge to dance my arms today. And I so love what you said about not being a fan of core work for the sake of it, but doing core work in order to support back bends and mobility.
Rosemary Garrison
So glad you enjoyed it, Ali ! I believe in core work for a greater energetic purpose. Otherwise, it just feels like no fun at all. ; ) Love that you danced your arms... finding creativity/ intuitive movement is so valuable these days. Be well.
Leslie C
2 people like this.
This was so nice. I feel relaxed, but strong! I am wondering if there is a knack to being able to relax my neck when we are in the back bends. Rosemary, you give such great guidance, I hope you have time to respond. Thank you for another wonderful practice!
Rosemary Garrison
Thank you, Leslie C ! I love "relaxed but strong." I'm curious about relaxing your neck. If you are working with urdhva dhanurasana, ideally your neck is completely relaxed. Perhaps a level of unease or even fear that prevents the letting go? The gaze is all turned upside down here as well, of course... so sometimes, we grip thru the neck in an effort to establish some control. I suggest going gently with yourself and gradually easing into releasing the weight of the head completely. As for ustrasana, some students prefer keeping their head somewhat lifted which is absolutely okay. A full release of the head in camel can be too intense for the neck depending on the structure of the body/ relationship between the head dropping back and location of the shoulders. Again, go gently and experiment. And feel free to reach out as you explore more! 
Sandra Židan
Hi, Rosemary! The abdominal work was a bit hard for me today- I did it with pauses and the rest of the practice was really great! Thanks and kind regards!
Rosemary Garrison
Good for you for working through it, Sandra Židan ! Kind regards to you as well. 
David G-
2 people like this.
Chill beginning almost put me into a nap, but I see how that was integral in getting me deeper into camel. The calf hold stretched me so that regular camel felt much easier. Hard to come out of Shavasana, but feel all sparkly a few hours later. A sense of equanimity. 

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