Too Tight to Stretch Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 8

Strong and Open Back Body

35 min - Practice


Alana guides us through a floor practice dedicated to stretching, opening, and strengthening the back body. You will feel open, supported, and refreshed.
What You'll Need: Mat, Square Bolster, Blanket, Strap, Block

About This Video

May 17, 2016
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(ocean waves) Welcome back, thank you for being here. So this is a floor practice really designed to stretch, open, and strengthen the back. So we'll begin. I have props with me. So you might have a bolster, a blanket, a block, and a strap, a little bit of everything.

We'll start on our back. And take a moment here with your feet on the floor, spreading your toes and releasing your arms along your sides. Good, allow for an inhale. And exhale at the breath. (exhales) Release.

From here, draw your right knee in towards your chest, and just take a moment here, interlace your fingers, either on top of your knee or maybe behind the thigh, releasing the shoulders. Now you might stay here with your left foot on the floor to support your back or you might choose to extend your left leg. Flex your foot, and really lengthen the back of your body. So, as your soften the shoulders down the back, flex the left ankle if it's extended, which can help to strengthen the back. And then draw your belly button, your navel towards your spine a bit so you really lengthen the back body, softening the shoulders down the back.

Take one more inhale. (inhales) And exhale, relax the face and relax the jaw. And you might draw that knee slightly in a bit more or maybe a little wider towards your right underarm. (exhales) Again, if that left leg is extended, flex the foot. If the knee is wide, come back to the center, release the right foot, and then go ahead and bend the left knee.

We'll find that on the left side, drawing the left knee in. (inhales) (exhales) Taking a few breaths here. You might keep the right foot grounded on the floor to support your back today, or extend and flex. Again, lengthen the back of your body, and it can help to draw your belly button in towards your spine a bit as your soften and relax your shoulders. Long neck here.

(inhales) (exhales) Bringing your attention to your right hip and your left hip. You might stay here, you might bring the knee slightly wider towards your left underarm. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) And then come back to the center. One more breath. (inhales) And then exhale.

(exhales) Release your left foot and then bend the right knee. Take a moment here, inhale. (inhales) And exhale. (exhales) Again, draw the right knee into the chest, extend the left leg, flex the foot. Inhale, and then exhale and switch.

Draw the left knee in, extend for the right leg, begin to engage your core a bit. So bringing your attention towards your abdominals. Inhale, if it feels all right on your back, exhale and switch, draw the right knee in, extend for the left foot. Inhale, exhale and switch. Draw the left knee in, and one more time, inhale, exhale, right knee in.

You might keep that left foot off the floor, and then left side, inhale, exhale, draw the left knee in and extend through the right heel. Good, and then release both legs. Take a moment here, deep inhale. (inhales) Exhale and... (exhales) Release the breath.

And then draw your knees into your chest. Let yourself rock, lift from side to side, and then roll on to your side. Use your arms to press yourself up. Let's make our way on to all fours. So coming on to the hands and knees, spreading the fingers wide, and the bring the knees slightly wider here, and then we're gonna press back towards a child's pose, and really check in with your knees here and your hips.

If you feel any irritation on the knees or on the hips, you might stay high and work with cat cow. A few rounds here. If child's pose is comfortable on your body, you might take a few moments here, let the floor head release. (inhales) (exhales) Bring your attention into your back body. With your attention on your back body, take a few breaths into the back body.

(inhales) (exhales) Notice how with your attention there, you can, in a way, receive the breath into the back of your body. (inhales) (exhales) Good, inhale, come back on to all fours, and we're gonna lower on to the belly, making your way on to your belly, release the tops of the feet, forehead on the floor, and then slide the palms in line with your shoulders, and draw the elbows in. And we're moving towards cobra. Spin the inner thighs towards each other, finding a bit of internal rotation. Allow for an inhale, and begin to rise up.

We'll start with a baby cobra. So just beginning to lift the heart, and draw in back body in towards the spine as you lengthen and lift. Relaxing through the mat, glaze towards the floor. Exhale and release. Let's find that two more times.

Inhale, press through the palms, lift the chest, lift the heart, elbows in, lifting feeling that work through the back body. Exhale and release, and one more time, as you're ready. Inhale and lift, press down for the palms just enough to help, lift through the heart, and then gazing down. So if you're looking up like this, most likely your neck is compressed, so softening for the back of the neck. And then exhale and release.

Bring your elbows wide, let your forehead rest on your hands, bend your knees, and find a bit of reverse windshield wipers, so let the knees go side to side. (breathes deeply) Relax, seeing the work, the effort in the back body. Good, and then release the feet. From here, we'll move towards locust, so bring your forehead on the floor, reach your fingers towards your toes, find an internal rotation, your thighs, so you're spinning the inner thighs in and up towards the sky. As you're ready, on inhale, begin to lift the chest, lift the sternum, lift the heart.

Back of the neck stays soft, and you might add the legs lifting up. Reaching the fingers towards the toes. Feeling that work in the back of the body as you lift, inhale, exhale, and gently release the forehead to the floor, or bring a cheek, ear to the floor and rest. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Together, we'll find that two more times. As you're ready, on your inhale, begin to rise up, and then you might lift the legs, reaching the fingers towards the toes as you lift, collar bones wide.

Next, stay soft, reaching, lifting, lengthening and breathing. (inhales) (exhales) Yes, inhale, lift. Exhale, gently release, forehead on the floor, or opposite cheek and ear to the floor. Take a moment to rest and allow for a full exhalation. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Okay, last round together as you're ready.

Take a moment to tune your legs, your feet, your fingers, and as you inhale, begin to rise up, lifting the chest, lifting the legs, and then, with some enthusiasm reaching through the fingers and the toes, as you lift, breathe, and draw the back body in towards your spine as you lift. Feel that strength and support within. Beautiful, inhale. As you exhale, slow release again, bring the elbows wide, forehead rests on your hands. Bend your knees, let the knees go side to side, reverse windshield wipers.

Again, relaxing all that work and effort through the back of your body. (inhales) (exhales) From here, release your legs. We're gonna roll on to our back from here. So find your way on to your back, roll over. And as you roll over, have your block and your strap nearby.

Nice. And then, from here, setting up for a supported bridge. We'll bring the block between the inner thighs. So, bring your heels in line with your sit bones, feet about hip distance, and then bring your block between your inner thighs. Now, depending on your thighs, and the size of your block, you might find this width or perhaps slightly wider, about hips' width apart.

And take a few moments here, draw the inner thighs towards the block, feel that support, lengthen the back body, spread the toes, arms along your sides. Allow for an inhale, and as you exhale, draw your thighs into the block, draw your tailbone under. Press down for your feet and lift your hips. Nice. Let the front line lengthen, front of the body. Let the back of your body lengthen.

And then reach your hands towards your heels. Relaxing for the next in the face. Relax any grip through your butt, relax that effort and feel that work and stability in your pelvis and your legs. Good, inhale, exhale, slow and release, nice and slow, feeling your upper back, your middle back, your low back. Just take a moment to check in, notice how you feel.

(inhales) (exhales) Now, we'll find that one more time. With the block, you might choose to ditch your block. Bring your block off to the side. Okay, fell the inhale, and on the exhale, curl the tailbone under soft through the top of the hips. As your curl the tailbone under, lift your hips, and you can draw the inner thighs into the block, if you have one, feeling that support, front line lengthens, back line lengthens, hands reached towards your feet.

(inhales) (exhales) (inhales) Breathing. (breathes deeply) Okay, one more inhale, and then exhale slowly lower, with control the belly, upper back, middle back, low back, and then release. Take a moment here, inhale. (inhales) Exhale. (exhales) And then bring your block off to the side.

Draw your knees into your chest. It will probably feel good after that. Rock a little bit from side to side. (exhales) And then bring your strap around the bottom of your right foot. Extend your right leg up, this is one of my favorites, And then bend and straighten the knee a couple of times, just nice and easy, waking up the hamstrings.

After bridge, this can feel like a really nice release in the legs. Good, eventually extend your leg up, flex the foot, spread the toes, you can keep a soft bend in your knee. Okay, you might keep you left foot on the floor or extend your left leg, and flex the foot, just like we did in the beginning. And then bring the strap in your right hand, your left hand might ground your left hip. And then, nice and easy, let it float from side to side.

(breathes deeply) Finding the inner and outer hamstrings. Notice where you can soften for the fingers, the shoulders and the face. (inhales) (exhales) A few more moments here. You're eventually coming back in the center, you might stay right here, your might choose to begin to curl up. So again, engaging the abdominals.

Inhale and then exhale. Chin into your chest, you use your belly to curl up, forehead towards your shin. Towards. Soften the grip through the hands. Good, and then slowly extend the spine, release the head.

(inhales) (exhales) Remove your strap. Now, depending on your back, today, you might just simply bend your knees, feet on the floor. You might flex the foot, strong through the belly and the hips, as you extend and lower, reaching through your heel nice and slow. And then relax the effort, you might shake it out a little bit. Notice how you feel, notice the effects.

And then, we'll find that on the left side, so bending the knees, and bring your strap around your left foot. Whew! And then bend and straighten the knee a couple of times, just nice and easy. Okay, you might notice the side feels a bit different than the right side. You might have a different relationship or a conversation going on, like your left side versus your right, depending on what you're working with in your knee, your hamstrings, your ankle, your foot. Eventually, extending it up, and keep a slight bend for the knee, flex the foot, and you might keep the right foot grounded on the floor.

Extend the right leg, flex the foot, and then strap in your left hand, right hand on your hip, and just nice and easy side to side. (inhales) (exhales) You notice your breath. (breathes deeply) Breathe and where you feel sensation, so there might be a sticky spot or some resistance. (inhales) You might feel like a screaming pull through your hamstring. In that case, you might bend the knee a bit.

Or back off. Okay, eventually coming back into the center, and you might stay here. You might engage the abdominals as you breathe in and then exhale, chin into the chest, and then curl, curl, curl, curl up. Forehead towards your shin. If your right leg is extended, reach lengthen, breathe.

Nice work, slowly release. (exhales) We'll remove the strap. Again, you might just simply bring both feet on the floor. With the knees bent or extend reach, stabilizing your core and your hips as you extend and lower. (exhales) Nice work, relax the effort.

Take a moment to notice how you feel. (inhales) (exhales) As you're ready, bend the knees. We'll rock from side to side. We're gonna make the journey towards a seat, coming in to seated spinal twist. So you might rock and roll on your spine to come up, or you might simply roll to your side, use your arms to come up.

And then extend the legs. Now, for this seated twist, I suggest bringing a blanket underneath. A blanket or two underneath your hips. And here this just helps to encourage the spine to lengthen, the pelvis to roll forward a bit. Whew! This here is a lot of work just to sit up is a ton of work.

You might notice your knees wanna bend here. (inhales) (exhales) We'll draw the right knee in towards the chest, so the right foot is flat on the floor. Inhale, lift the left arm high. Now, as we twist towards the left, the tendency is to wanna use our arm to like crank. So we're gonna play with inhale lengthening, and then, from the belly, beginning to twist, so without even using our arm.

This is a lot of work. Inhale, and then exhale, you might wrap the left hand around your right leg, right hand on the floor. Inhale, lengthen the spine and lift, and then exhale gently twist over your right shoulder. You can flex the left foot a bit. You can take about five breaths here.

The work is to lengthen the spine. Inhale, exhale, soften the belly and twist, gazing over the right shoulder, or in a comfortable place. (breathes deeply) A little softer through the eyes and the mouth. Take one more inhale. And then to unwind, first start with your gaze.

So let the head come over, and then release the right leg. Take a moment to shake it out a little bit. And then, as you're ready, bring your hand under your left knee, your opposite knee. Foot flat on the floor. Inhale and lift.

Reach the right arm up toward the sky, flexing the right ankle, and the exhale, begin to twist towards your left. (exhales) Inhale, lift, and then exhale, gently wrap the hand around. If you prefer to bring the hand across the body, you can do that, or just gently wrap and lift, and then your gaze might begin to come over your left shoulder. Breathing. And soften and relax what you can.

The face, and then the neck, breathing, and then perhaps deepening into the twist. Here you might even explore breathing into the mid or lower part of the back. (exhales) (inhales) More inhale, and then exhale, let the head, the gaze come over your right shoulder, center, and then free your left leg, shake it out a little bit. And then let's come into a Sukhasana, shin to shin. And for this, you might keep your blanket.

I'm gonna remove my blanket as we approach boat pose, also known as Navasana. So we'll start here in simple shin to shin, bring your hands on your shins, and then feel the spine lengthen, the heart lift, arch and lengthen. So find this extension through the spine as sit bones are grounded, the neck is lengthening, and then release. Okay, let's see how this goes. We're gonna come on to our sit bones.

And then bring the feet out in front of you. Right now, you might be feeling that grip right here through the top of the hips. Inhale, lengthen, lift the spine, lift the heart, soften the shoulders down the back. Now, right here, it's quite a bit of work. And strength on the core.

You might stay right here and just work on lifting and lengthening. You might play with lifting your feet and lifting your legs. Lengthening the spine back, the next is long. You might keep the hands right where they are, you might extend and reach. Breathe.

(exhales) Good, inhale, exhale, shin to shin. Bring the hands on the shins, lengthen the spine, a little counterpose there. (inhales) (exhales) And then, we'll find two more rounds. Feet on the floor, lengthen out through the spine. Again, you might stay here and work on lifting, lengthening, this is a lot of work.

You might lean back, lift your legs. Your hands might stay where they are or reach, three full breaths here. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) Good, and then release, opposite shin in front. Inhale and a little counterpose, arching can feel nice. (inhales) And then last round.

Feet on the floor, and you might stay here and work this action of lifting. You might play with leaning back, lifting the legs and then reaching out through the arms. Most likely, the legs are shaking a bit and quivering. Breathing. Okay, one more inhale, exhale and release.

Roll on to your back. I'm just gonna turn around. Nice work. Under your back, draw your knees into your chest, let yourself rock, again from side to side. (inhales) (exhales) From here, coming into a spinal twist, wrapping your left leg over your right leg.

Rolling on to your right side, and then inhale, lift the arm, and then release it, so the left leg is wrapping over the right leg. If you prefer to have both knees stacked on top of each other, like this, you might do that. Just a few breaths here. (exhales) And letting the left shoulder release towards the floor, softening the belly. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) As you're ready, inhale, unwind.

Take a moment to pause, the neutral at both feet on the floor. Like reset the hips, the back , the shoulders. Allow for an inhale. (inhales) And a full exhale. (exhales) And then lift the feet.

As you come over to the left, you might wrap your right leg over your left leg, like so, or stack both knees and hold to your left. Rolling on to your left side, and then reaching the right arm up, and letting it open. And allow for an inhale. (inhales) And then exhale. (exhales) Release into the twist.

(inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) And breathing into where you feel this sensation. And it might be in your shoulder, your ribs, your hip. You might explore breathing into the back body, into the back, laid back. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) And then, as you're ready, unwind, put your feet on the floor, and reset the hips, the shoulders, allow for an inhale. (inhales) And exhale, nice and easy.

(exhales) Now, as we make our way toward Shavasana, if you have a bolster, that can be quite nice. You'll bring a bolster underneath your knees. You can also set yourself up with a blanket. If you have a bolster and a blanket, having a blanket under your head can feel quite nice. And then bringing the bolster up against the back of the knees and the thighs.

Come on to your back. And get comfy. And relax the effort. (inhales) (exhales) And staying a few moments here to rest in this space you've just created in the body. It will probably feel nice to stay here a little bit longer.

It made me feel the hamstring. Gradually bring your knees in, and then roll into your side. Take a few moments on your side. (inhales) (exhales) And, as you're ready, pressing your way up, keeping the head heavy, and then coming up towards the seat. Just taking a few moments here.

And thank you for your practice. Namaste.


Simon ?
Remembering that the gentle practise is often more powerful than the faster routines. I’m finding more time and opportunity to explore and travel deeper into the sensations. Bless you Alana.
Alana Mitnick
Wonderful, Simon. I remember Erich Schiffmann once said, "The fastest way to move deep is s l o w l y." So true.
Amy D
Hi Alana,

I'm relatively new to yoga and have already benefitted immensely from some of your videos, so thank you.

I'd like to try this practice sometime next week, but wonder: what could one use as a substitute for the bolster mentioned in the list of props? Or should I just take the plunge and get one? What are the benefits / functions of the bolster?
Alana Mitnick
Hi Amy, Great question. Props are designed to hold and support the body. A good substitute for a bolster would be 1-2 folded blankets or a firm pillow. If you plan to practice regularly, a bolster is a wonderful tool to have nearby. It can be especially nice to support the back and open the front body. I would experiment and see what feels best for you. Let me know if you have any questions along the way! ~ Alana
Amy D
Brilliant! Thanks a bundle, Alana.

Your response is really helpful & far more accessible than other suggestions I found online. Pillows and blankets it is for now though, until the search for a bolster in South Africa turns up something worthwhile (I'm sure local yogis will be able to point me in the right direction :)).

Thanks again!
Jean P
thank you,thank you ,thank you.......this was wonderful!
Alana Mitnick
Hi Jean, So glad you are here and enjoyed the practice! This is one of my favorite go-to sequences to stretch, strengthen and release tension. Stay with it and please connect in along the way. Warmly, Alana
Roslyn G
1 person likes this.
Thank you for the wondeful class.
Alana Mitnick
Roslyn, Thank YOU for making the time for yourself to practice! I always feel better afterwards. Wishing you a wonderful and easeful weekend. Love, Alana 
Sandra Židan
Nice and calming practice! Thanks, Alana! Regards!
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