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Season 6 - Episode 5

Scenic Route to Backbending

35 min - Practice


Audra shares a practice to open the back chain of the body. We begin with a supported backbend and then flow through a classical Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) with deep low lunges, targeting the shoulders, thighs, calves, and feet. We find Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) in preparation for some juicy Urdhva Dhanurasanas (Wheel Poses). You will feel open and free.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket, Block (2)

About This Video

Mar 14, 2016
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(ocean waves) Welcome to your practice. Today we've got some back bends on deck. We're gonna look at it a little bit differently, there'll be a little bit less flow here and a little bit more of an opening of the back chain of the body. I was injured in the spring, and have since sort of like, gone through this wonderful transition with back bends where I'm looking at them through a different lens. And this is sort of the fruit of that learning that has happened.

So I hope you like it. You're gonna need two blocks if you have them on hand, and a blanket. Go ahead and grab your two blocks and set them up exactly as I show you. You're gonna come about mid-mat, and you're gonna place the two blocks right next to each other, I'll show you this side, so you can see, so there's a little bit of space for your spine. Like this.

And then you're gonna place the soles of your feet on the floor, your hips are down, and then look back and gently place one shoulder blade on one block and your other shoulder blade on the other block. And already you're like, back bends, ahoy, here we are. Bring your hands back behind your head, oh that's nice. Something that happens sometimes when we come into this pose is you can feel this creeping of your shoulders up towards your ears, so just take a moment and snuggle them back down your back if that occurred. And then draw your elbows up to the sky, so you're kind of hugging your head, and suck your armpits back towards the block, like...

(blowing out air) Press your shoulder blades onto the block, and then lift your chin, draw your chin in towards the front of your throat and start to take your head back. Stretch through the tips of your elbows. Good. Use your eyeballs to look back, and maybe you can see the floor back behind you. Firm your belly here, and then start to reach your hands back as best you can.

Good. If you're feeling okay in your low back, keep using your belly. Your might lift up your hips, grab the edges of your mat, that's why we went mid-mat, and then pull the edges of your mat away as you drop your hips back down. Big, strong stretch here. Don't forget to breathe.

Give a little pull apart. A couple more. Beautiful. Release your mat, bring your hands right back by your sides. Do your best here to let your head come up last, so it's kind of like a crunch in your belly.

Ready? Fire the belly. Come on up, head comes last. Awesome. Release that.

Move your blocks out of the way, and come to hands and knees pose. Separate your knees, start to walk your hands out, stick your booty up into the air like a playful puppy, and then drop your chest to the floor. If it doesn't go all the way to the floor, that's totally fine. Spread your fingers, hug your triceps in, feel your upper back activate. Good.

A couple more breaths. Awesome. Walk it back in, bring hands back by your sides, tuck your toes, and shift it up and back, downward facing dog. So right away, we're gonna come to a big, beautiful shoulder opener here. So you're gonna bend your knees in toward your belly.

Keep that same sticking your booty, belly strong, feeling in your hips and your pelvis, and root through the hands, broaden your upper back, roll your armpits towards one another, across the front of your chest, and then lift your armpits up to the sky with your inhale. Exhale, drop your head to or towards the floor. Inhale. Exhale, drop your head. Good.

Keep that, just for a moment, and then re-straighten into the legs, maybe the head stays there, it's kind of awesome. And then lift it back up. Beautiful. Inhale, lift into your toes, bend your knees, look forward, hop yourself to the front of your mat, lengthen your spine, and then exhale, hold it in. Separate your feet a little bit, and bend your knees.

Take your right hand to the outside of your left knee, and walk your left hand forward, like boop, boop, boop, a little sea creature. Look up and underneath that armpit, move your inner thighs back behind you, my beautiful crystal's getting into the way. And then straighten the legs, hug the shins to mid line, peek up and underneath that armpit. Good. Awesome.

Release, bend the knees again, take the left hand to the outside of the right shin, walk the right hand forward, hug the inner thighs back behind you, shins to mid line, straighten into the legs as best you can, peek up and underneath that right armpit. Good. Left hip back, big, full breath in. Exhale, release. Press into your feet, inhale, rise all the way up, big circle of the arms.

Exhale, hands to heart center. Back bends, here we come. So, stay at the top of your mat, inhale your arms up and wide. Exhale, flow it forward. Uttanasana.

Inhale, extend your spine, shoulders back, belly lifts. Exhale, step back right side. Drop your back knee, take your left hand to the outside of your left foot, inhale right arm up and over, nice side bend, lift the right side belly, peek up and underneath that armpit like you did in the twist. Good. And then sweep it through, bring arms up and to the sky, inhaling.

Exhaling, touch it down, step back, plank pose, breathe it in. Shift forward, knees, chest, chin. Keep the elbows in by your sides. Untuck your toes. Inhale, rise up, cobra pose.

Stay here for a moment, curl the elbows in, pull the heel of your hand back toward your toes, lift your chest. Exhale, and downward facing dog. Good. Inhale that right leg back up and behind, exhale step between your hands, inhale, reach the right arms up and to the sky. Exhale, hands back behind you, make a clasp.

Bend your elbows, hug the legs together, hips move forward, shoulders rolled back, and then stretch your clasp back to your back heel, lift your chest. Good. Circle the arms up right back behind your ears as best you can, keeping that lift of the chest. Stretch just like you did on the block, and then exhale hands down to the floor. Inhale step forward, our uttanasana.

Exhale fold in. Inhale rise up, upward salute. Exhale hands to heart center. Inhale, rising up. Exhale, folding through.

Inhale, extend your spine. Exhale, step back left side. Drop your back knee. Right hand stays down right there by your pinky toes, left hand comes up and over. Your left ribs want to turn open, so see about turning them towards the front of the room and you're gonna get more of a psoas opener there.

Lift the left side belly, peek up and underneath that armpit, inhaling, exhale and stay. Breathe it in, arms up. Exhale, touch down. Step back, plank pose, shift forward, knees, chest, chin. Untuck your toes.

Push up, cobra, slide it through, pubic bone stays down, root through the legs. Curl the elbows in. Pull the heel of your hand back to move your chest through. That's it. Down dog.

Inhale that left leg straight back, exhale step it forward. Drop the back knee, inhale the arms up and to the sky. Exhale, make a clasp back behind you. Make non-dominant clasp. Bend your elbows, roll your shoulders back to start to open your chest, pull the heel of your hand back as you move your chest forward, up and back.

Good. Keep that lift of the chest, release your clasp, circle the hands up by your ears, maybe behind them, and then stretch. Good. Release hands down to the floor. Inhale.

Low lunge. Exhale, step forward, forward fold. Inhale, rising back up one more time. Exhale, hands to heart. Nice and warm now.

Inhale, reaching up. Let's work on that back chain of the body. Exhale, fold down. Inhale, arta, exhale, take a vinyasa for good measure, chaturanga, big upward facing dog. Exhale, downward dog.

Come on down to your knees. Good. And come back to sit your heels. So you're gonna take your blanket, if you have one, and you're gonna grab it and bring it forward towards the front of your mat. And then from here, you're just gonna prepare it for when we need it.

It's gonna come up. You'll unroll it, and this scraggly end of your blanket, if you have one, you're gonna start to roll up, really, really, really tight. So it's gonna be a tight ball of blanketness. And if you're at home and you don't have like this kind of traditional yoga style blanket, you can really use anything, I've rolled up the blankets on my son's bed, I've rolled up coats, to smush my legs and calves, it'll be great. And then set that to the side.

Bring your hands forward with your toes untucked, take your left toes and turn them in, and put the arch of your right foot right on your left, the bony part of your right foot right on your left arch. And then you get in there and you smush it. And it feels, if this is the first time you've done it, maybe weird, maybe horrible, but there's this, this is my pep talk, there's this line of fascia up the back of your body, and it goes right from the center of your foot where you're smushing, up the back chain of your body, all the way to your third eye, right above your third eye. And so it's releasing, it's like there's a big parachute, and you're pulling on that thread right at the bottom, but the whole parachute is affected. Okay.

That's enough of that foot. Come to sit broken toe. Notice the difference between your two feet. This one feels pretty good. Second side.

Turn your right toes towards the left, place the bony part of your left foot right in the arch of your right foot, and then smush it. Sometimes you might notice that the... You don't want to put a lot of weight, and so you can lean forward and put your hands on blocks or on the floor. But for most of us, we want to really get in there and get that fascia moving, pulling on the thread of that parachute. Awesome.

You might go up and down, side to side, you feel a little bit like a cricket. Great. Move forward, broken toe. Tuck the toes, sit back, wing your pinky toes out if they tend to get caught in there. Yeah.

Feels different. And then you're gonna take your blanket which you already have prepared in your nice tight roll, and you're gonna bring the blanket, and I have to go way, way way way forward to get this to happen, right back behind your knees. So don't be shy, like really get in there with yourself, and then go ahead and sit back on the blanket. Oh yeah. This is good stuff.

And you want to like, get in it. If you need your blocks again, if it feels like too much, go ahead and grab your blocks for a little bit of support. And then you can wiggle kind of like some cross fiber action. We could call this video self massage to back bends. Something awesome like that.

That no one would ever watch. Good. My joke video was called Your Inner Thighs. That would be my joke video that just all we did was inner thigh work, which no one would ever watch either. Awesome.

Okay. And then move the blanket back, just like an inch. And this is for me where it's effective, there's a lot going on here, there's a lot of sensation happening, which is great, that's what we're after. Sensation. And again, notice if you're kind of sitting up and at it, and see what you can do to put the full weight back into your legs.

Go like a cricket, do your little dance. And then move it back again, just like an inch. Sit back, and get those legs opened up. And right here you might feel your hamstrings even starting to be strummed a little bit, which is nice. Good.

Okay. So you might want to keep your blanket handy. You're gonna sit up, remove the blanket, take the blanket back to the back of your mat, and then grab one block, and then come to sit on your block, with the block in this nice long setting. Like this. And then you're gonna bring one foot out in front of you, and then you're simply gonna lift your seat up, draw your sitting bones towards your knee, this is kind of like jazzercise, but we're not going there.

And then you're gonna come down towards your elbows, back behind you. If your knee flies up off the floor, this is not the place for you. The place for you is up on fingertips or just sitting straight up. This is a big opening now for the front side of your body. Keep the shoulders nice and broad.

Feels good, it's usually pretty intense and wonderful. Big opening. Getting that psoas working. Sometimes a little shifting of your hips can even find a new place to get in there and scrub out. Awesome.

Come up. Switch sides, take your right leg back behind you, and your left foot forward. Come back to fingerpads, lift your seat up, sitting down bones towards your knee, towards your heel, and then come down. You might stay here, nice beautiful broad chest, or come back towards your elbows. Again, don't let that knee fly out.

Keep reaching. And then do a little bit of yoga exploring with your own body. See where you can get in and find more space or some sticky spots inside. Great. Use your belly, come on back up.

Wonderful. Come back to your asana shape, your hero's pose, and then move the block aside and take your knees as close together as you can. For women, it might be a little bit further apart, you want the bones to come straight out of your hips, so it's a nice, clean line. And then you're gonna wiggle yourself in. And then you've got this same kind of process here.

Maybe coming back to elbows, maybe not coming back at all. You can also set a block on the floor to set your upper back on, is a wonderful way to do it. And then come all the way back for your supta virasana. Great. It is a back bend, so much of your back is not on the floor.

You can take your arms up above you and grab opposite elbows. Reach through the knees, and you can even pull a little bit on one elbow, kind of getting the skin, and the other. Keep the belly strong to protect your low backs, which you want forever for the rest of your life. And just hang out here for a sec. Good.

Release your elbows if you had them, circle your hands by your sides. Press back up to elbows, and come all the way back up towards seated. Simply tip forward, tuck your toes with very little fanfare, shift your hips up and back, oh, for downward facing dog. This is like the anti-virasana, the anti-hero's pose here, not metaphorically, but simply for your legs to let the blood flow start to come back. From your big downward dog, shift up onto your toe tips and roll yourself out towards plank, your chaturanga, all the way to the belly.

Come out towards sphinx pose, nice wide elbows, many of us think that our shoulders are much more narrow than they are, so make sure they're pretty broad here. Separate your feet back behind you, pull your heart through the goal posts of your arms, and then turn your left fingertips, your right fingertips towards your left elbow, and then look over your shoulder, reach back, pick up your foot, and then pull the heel towards your seat, and if you have this mobility in your shoulder, it feels wonderful to turn your fingers towards the pinky toes, and then all the way around so that your toes and your fingers are pointing in the same direction. Turn your chest forward, feel that stretch of the quad that you just worked in supta virasana, draw your chin in and look up. Stay lifted in your right shoulder, don't sink. Good.

Release. Come back to your sphinx pose. Find center. Pull your heart through. Turn your left fingerprints towards your right elbow, press into that left elbow so that you have lift there in your shoulder, and then look back, reach your right hand back, take the foot in, and it can start with just fingertips down towards the knee, look forward, or keep spinning the fingertips all the way so that they move in the direction of the toes.

And then if you peel that hip up, put it back down, turn yourself forward, stretch. Lift the right side belly, look up. Beautiful. Release. Come back to your sphinx pose, and just rest of a moment.

Put your head on your hands. Wiggle your hips out. Then turn your toes in so that your back body is nice and wide. Good. And then bring your hands to chaturanaga arms, so they're right by your chest, and then move your shoulders back, and this is kind of step two for bakasana for half frog pose.

You're gonna keep your right shoulder and elbow tucked in nice and tight, and then you're gonna look back, pick up your foot, reach your left hand back, and then same thing, fingers can point down or start to turn, and then press into your left hand, lift up, half bakasana. Good. Release. Switch sides. Left hand, left elbow, shoulder stays nice and tucked in.

Reach back with your right hand, find your hand position, and then push, lift up. Good. Release. Rest. So we opened up the front chain, we did a little bit of surya namaskar, we opened up the back chain.

It's time to flip over and do a couple of back bends. So turning over on your back. Get yourself settled on your mat. There's this, I always think when I come to do these back bends, we're in this super prone position with our heart and all of our organs moving towards the sky, and it's kind of like saying I love you for the first time, where you're like, I love you world, or person, whoever it is, here's my heart and it's totally exposed. And sometimes we can feel a little bit frozen when we get up there, like, oh no, what are they gonna say?

Do they love me back? Like you're totally exposed and out there when we do these back bends. So we'll move today to find a little bit of movement and more comfortability in our opening. So feet right by your hips. Take your elbows right by your sides like robot arms, and press your upper arm bones into the floor, and start to feel your chest open right there.

It lifts to the sky. So you're getting ready, getting your courage up. And then from your outer hip, press into your feet, start to lift the hips up, press your elbows and your whole arm bones down onto the floor, snuggle your shoulder blades underneath you, and rise up for vasana. Good. From your inner knee to your groin, pull in and up to lift the hips a little bit higher, press into your heels, pull your heels towards your shoulders.

Yeah. You get a little bit more lift. A little bit more lift for your I love you. Nice. And then release, come back down.

So here's the deal. You can stay right here and do a couple of more rounds of vasana, or you can come with me and we'll work two entrances into urdhva dhanurasana today, which is full wheel pose. So first one. You're gonna bring your hands back by your ears, I like to turn my toes in a little bit because my tendency is to externally rotate my legs, and so that just helps me find my clear alignment as I go up. You're gonna do that same sort of snuggling back of the shoulders, you'll lift up your right shoulder and pull your shoulder underneath you towards your hips, and then your left shoulder, pull it underneath you towards your hips, and you've already got this little mouse hole right underneath your spine.

And then press into your feet from your outer hip, you're gonna start to lift up right onto the top of your head. So hips up, press into your hands, come up the top of the head. Pause. Walk your hands back towards your heels just a little bit. Turn the fingers out, and then push up and walk your head back towards your heels.

Firm your belly, press into your heels, snuggle your shoulder blades onto your back, and then rise up. First one. Keep that snuggling of the shoulder blades onto your back kind of feeling, from inner groin up to your hips, pull in and up, lift your hips higher. Good. Tuck your chin, come all the way back down, let the knees knock in.

Just let the knees keep resting on one another. Send the breath right down to your hips here, taking a little rest in between. Sometimes the best part about back bending are these little pauses. These breaks between the opening. Good, okay.

Good rest. Let's bring your hands right back behind your ears once more, and this time, we're gonna come all the way up, so you want pause on the top of your head. Listen carefully. Turn your toes in, if you have a tendency to externally rotate like I do. Low back gets nice and wide there.

Lift up your right shoulder, draw it underneath you a little bit, create that little mouse hole, do it on the left side, and then look at the ceiling, kind of spot on the ceiling and become best friends with it. You're not gonna look away until you're all the way up. Okay, ready? I'll talk you through. Press into your heels, start to lift your outer hips, so don't press your public bone up into the sky, and then start to press into your hands, keep looking at the ceiling, draw your chin in towards the front of your throat, and then take your head back.

Good. Snuggle the shoulder blades onto your back, you may pump your chest a little bit if it feels nice. Free head. And then when you're done, tuck your chin, come back down, knees knock in. Beautiful.

Find that little pause. So that chin drawing in towards the front of the throat is an activation of our jaw and our abanda, our throat lock, which not only helps to turn our belly on, but helps to open up our thoracic spine, our upper back, so we get this big, bigger opening in the chest, if that's what we're after that day. When you're ready, start to bring your knees up into your chest and cross your right leg over your left leg, and come towards a reclined gomukhasana. So it might just be that you're catching shins right now. You might catch the outsides of your feet.

And you keep the legs kind of like a big cruiser bicycle, is what I like to think of it as. And your sitting bones in your low back will come up off the floor a little bit, which is totally fine. And you just draw in, feel this beautiful stretch on the outer hips, which work so hard to lift you up into your back bends. Good. Okay.

So release your hands, and then you're gonna go ahead and take a twist over to the right, so make cactus arms, hop the hips a little bit to the left, and then twist over to your right side and let the weight of your right leg pull your left leg down. And this is one of the most delicious twists of all time, in my opinion. Because you get this big itevian opening, this stretch of the hip and also of the psoas, running right along inside your left hip point. Good. Come on back up to center.

Release your right leg from on top, and then circle your left leg around, and then draw yourself in. It might just be shins this side, every side's different. Or you might lean up a little bit, grab the edges of your feet and get your big cruiser handlebars happening. There's also like a hidden bicep workout that you're getting here. Good.

Keep sending the breath straight down into your hips and your lower back. Wonderful. Release your arms. Keep your legs crossed, make cactus arms, hop the hips a little bit over to the right, and then take a twist towards the left. So let that left leg make the right leg really heavy and get that opening there.

Adjust as you need to, of course. These are just recovery poses, right? From the back bending work we did, from the opening that we did. And so we're making sure that it feels good to us, not that it feels terrible. Good advice in life.

Make sure it doesn't feel terrible. And then rise on back up. Good. Separate your legs. Touch your hands underneath your hamstrings.

If you need a big old chavasana right now, then just do that, otherwise start to wrap yourself up towards seated, and come to sit just quiet for a moment. Let your hands rest in your lap. Sitting up nice and tall. Shoulders relaxing away from your ears. Back of the neck is long.

Feel that line of energy running right from your sitting bones up through your spine, out through the crown of your head. Lift your hands up to your heart. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this practice together, and making back bends, making the root to back bends look maybe a little bit different than normal. Let's take a big bow down to your shiny, beautiful hearts. Namaste.


1 person likes this.
Loved this! The calf opening with a rolled blanket is amazing. The whole is well thought-through and progressive.
Audra Carmine
Thank you Wynter! Calf smoothing has changed many poses for me. Glad you enjoyed it:)
Margi Young
1 person likes this.
Beautiful and fun. I love your I love you talk. Thank you! Margi
Audra Carmine
You're welcome Margi. I think about the risk of saying, "I love you," almost every time I do backbends. Glad you enjoyed it.

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