The Ashtanga Practice Artwork
Season 3 - Episode 8

Advanced Backbending

60 min - Practice


Maria shares a balanced back-bending sequence incorporating postures from the first, second, and third Ashtanga series. We begin with shoulder opening and Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) before moving into deeper, more advanced backbends. Maria breaks down Natarajasana (King Dancer), Padangusthasana Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose), Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose), and Urdhva Dhunurasana (Wheel Pose), working toward dropbacks with the support of a wall. You will feel expansive and energized from within.
What You'll Need: Mat, Wall, Strap

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(waves crashing on the beach) Welcome back. Today's sequence is a balance sequence to prepare you for drop backs, so we'll be going into deeper back bends, such as kapotasana and urdhva dhanurasana, and kapotasana can be a really challenging posture in second series. We're gonna go through some poses that actually aren't included in ashtanga, one being natarajasana, which is included in ashtanga, but not until third series. I found sometimes it's helpful to look ahead and pull some poses from third series and integrate them into first and second series, because there's some pieces that can be helpful. So we'll work on natarajasana, kapotasana, and urdhva dhanurasana, and drop backs.

I would recommend you grab a strap, we'll be using that today, and you'll wanna be close to the wall for the drop backs. We'll be doing them modified there at the wall. So let's come to standing. Okay, so you're gonna grab your strap. We'll start with a shoulder opener.

So we'll just take the strap, and I have a loop in mine. It's all set up for later on. So you'll just loop the strap around your foot, and you'll come to the front of your mat, and we'll take the strap back. So you can either do it this way, or it can be more comfortable if you thread the strap through your legs. And then we'll grab ahold of the strap, and we'll wrap the outer upper arms forward, feet together, just like samasthiti, and actually, the whole body's gonna be just like samasthiti.

Then holding onto the strap, we'll wrap the outer upper arms forward, start to pull the front ribs down and in, the belly in, and then reach the elbows up towards the ceiling. Head just looking straight forward. If it starts to feel easy, you can walk the hands down the strap a little further. Then if you start to go too deep into a back bend, we're avoiding the work in the shoulder, so, yes, you're bending your back, but you're not getting anything in the shoulder, and the purpose of this is for the shoulders to open, so pull the belly in, and then squeeze the elbows in. And you can even start to resist the hands up towards the ceiling.

I had a teacher, Ron Reed, who used to say, "It's like you're giving someone an uppercut "and a karate chop at the same time." So you can find that kind of action and effort in your arms. Elbows reaching up, like an uppercut, hands chopping down, or like chopping wood, and then belly firming in, front ribs firming in, looking forward. And just breathing, and eventually you can even start to straighten the arms a little, and that just deepens it. And we'll be working this action again later on, in king dancer and padangustha dhanurasana. And then go ahead and release that strap, and we'll just place it down to the side for later.

And we'll come back to samasthiti, so bringing your feet together, hands to prayer position at the heart, again, relaxing the shoulders down, lifting the sternum up, front ribs soft and pulled down and in, lower belly lifts up, and back. Finding and connecting to your breath. Letting the breath be soft. And focusing the mind on the breath. And then releasing the arms down, gazing forward, surya namaskara A, with inhalation we'll reach the arms up overhead, you can touch the palms together.

Look to the thumbs. Exhale, we'll hinge at the hips, and fold forward, letting the head and neck relax. Inhale, looking up, either bringing the hands to shins, coming to your fingertips, or hands flat. Exhale, stepping back to plank pose. We'll take an extra breath here, pull the belly in, lengthen the tailbone down.

Shift forward, with your next exhalation, we'll lower all the way down to the floor. For the first one, we're gonna add in shalabasana, just to start to warm up the spine, so let's just keep the hands, we'll say shalabasana B position, with the hands on the floor. Roll the shoulders down the back, lift the chest up and forward, and let's add the legs. Inner thighs lifting up, toes stretching back, sternum reaching forward, pubic bone and frontal hip bones pressing the floor. And then maintain all those efforts, just separate the feet and legs, press the feet down, keep pressing the hands, and maybe come up to cobra or all the way up to upward facing dog.

And then exhale, coming back to downward facing dog. Holding here for a few breaths, first downward facing dog, maybe you need to pedal out the feet, open the backs of the legs. We're not gonna do a whole lot to open up the hamstrings today, because the emphasis is on stretching the front body. And in the next exhalation, look forward and we'll walk the feet to the hands. Inhale, look up and lengthen, exhale, fold.

Inhale, come all the way up to the top. Exhale, samasthiti. Normal surya namaskara A. Inhale, arms reach. Exhale, fold.

Inhale, looking up, lengthening. Exhale, step or jump to chaturanga. Inhale, upward facing dog. Exhale, downward facing dog. One, two, three, four, and five.

Looking forward, stepping or jumping. Inhale, look up and lengthen. Exhale, fold. Inhale, all the way up. Exhale, samasthiti.

One last time, inhale. Exhale, fold. Inhale, lengthen, head up. Exhale, chaturanga. Inhale, upward facing dog.

Exhale, back, downward facing dog. And in the exhale, look forward. Step or jump. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, fold.

Inhale, all the way up. Samasthiti. Surya namaskara B. First one will be modified. Bend the knees, sit the hips back.

Inhale, utkatasana. Exhale, and fold forward. Inhale, look up, lengthen. Exhale, step or jump to chaturanga. Inhale, upward facing dog.

Exhale, back, downward facing dog. Step the right foot forward inside the right hand and bring the left knee down to the floor, coming into a low lunge, you can just bring your hands to your knee, right knee. So the option is to either stay here, pulling the shoulders down, or you can bend a little deeper into the right knee, if you have pretty open hip flexors, and you can bring your hands down to the floor, and we're gonna add another level, curling the back toes under, straightening the back leg. And then maybe even coming down to your forearms. If you come down to your forearms, make sure your knee stays close to your shoulder, so it doesn't start to drift off to the side, and you can lower all the way down to the forearms.

At any point, if you've gotten yourself a little further, deeper, than you're comfortable, you can always back off, or you can bring the knee down to the floor. Really activating that back leg is important, though. Your back bends, a lot of it, of course, is opening up the back, however legs are so important, especially as we start going into drop backs. So developing the strength and opening in the legs is essential. And then bringing the left knee down to the floor, coming back up to your hands, setting them flat, back leg straight, lift the right heel up, step to plank, and lower.

Inhale, upward facing dog, you may notice a difference between your left hip flexor and your right. Exhale, downward facing dog. Hopefully, the left one felt a little more open than the right. And we'll take the other side. Step your left foot forward, bring your right knee down, and come up.

So you can stay with this variation here, relaxing the shoulders, pulling the belly in, sinking into your left knee, and then the other option is to bring the hands down to the floor, straighten your back leg, and we also have our third option, lowering down to the forearms. Finding a place where you can breathe, where you're challenged but it's a challenge that you can work through, not overwhelming. And definitely not painful. Uncomfortable, but not painful. And pay attention to the jaw, the shoulders, the cheeks.

Let go of any unnecessary tension, or any tension. (laughs) And then we'll bring the right knee down to the floor, set our hands up, straighten the back leg, lift your left heel up, step back, and lower down. Inhale, to upward facing dog. Exhale, downward facing dog. Holding here and breathing.

(breathes deeply) Look forward, step or jump. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, fold. Bend the knees, sit the hips back, inhale to utkatasana. And exhale, samasthiti.

Surya namaskara B, bend the knees, inhale. Exhale, fold. Inhale, look up. Exhale, chaturanga. Inhale, exhale.

Right foot forward, left heel down. Inhale vira virasana one. Exhale, chaturanga. Inhale, exhale. Left foot forward, right heel down.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. One, two, three, four, five. Jumping forward. Inhale, exhale.

Bend the knees. Inhale, utkatasana. Exhale. Last one, inhale. Exhale.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Right foot forward.

Inhale, up. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Left side.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. One, two, three, four, five.

Inhale. Exhale. Bend the knees. Inhale. Samasthiti.

We'll step or jump open to the right, and then we're gonna take this right into a twisting triangle pose, twisting trikonasana, so we'll turn to face the back of our mat. If you use a block here, of course, preparing with the block, setting it next to your foot. Take a deep breath in, lifting the chest. As you exhale, you're gonna revolve to the right, reaching the left hand to the inside, or ideally the outside, of your right foot. Setting the hand down, pull the shoulders back.

Pull the front ribs in, as you revolve on the axis of the spine, turning towards the right, reach the right arm to the ceiling. It's one, two, press the outer left heel, three, four, if it's comfortable for the head and neck, look towards the right thumb. And five. Push down into your feet. Inhale, we'll come up.

Turn all the way to face the front. And exhale, to your left side, setting the right hand down next to your foot, continue to press your back heel, outer edge of the foot, down. Lengthen through the crown of the head, and revolve towards the left. One, reach through the left arm. Two.

Three. Four. And five. Press your feet, inhale, come up. Exhale, parallel the feet, and either step or jump to the front of your mat.

Parsvakonasana B. We're gonna modify it a little bit here, so we'll inhale, let's just step open to the right. And we're gonna turn to face the back of our mat. As we do so, we're actually gonna lift the back heel. From there, we'll bend the right knee, so it's really more like a twisting crescent pose.

Lift the left arm up, lengthening the left side body, press out through your back heel, and then we're gonna twist over to the right, taking the left elbow or shoulder to the outside of the knee. If it's the elbow, you'll bring your hands to prayer position and revolve to the right. If it's the shoulder, you'll take the left hand down to the floor, reach the right arm up to the ceiling, and then revolve and twist. It's one. Two, continue to reach out through your back heel.

Three, press down into your left hand as you reach through the right. Four. And five. And then we'll release that pose. Inhale, come up.

Turn around to face the front, picking up your back heel, and with exhalation, you'll fold into your second side, taking the right elbow or shoulder to the outside of the left knee. Again, if it's elbow, bring the hand to prayer position. If it's shoulder, you'll set the hand flat on the floor, push down into the hand to straighten the right arm, and then reach the left arm up to the ceiling. It's one, press out through your back heel, two, keep the right leg nice and straight and strong, three, lengthen through the crown of the head, four, and five. And we'll release.

Press down into the feet, inhale to come up, exhale, parallel the feet, and then step or jump to the front of your mat. Next posture will be king dancer's pose, so we're gonna need our strap for this one. King dancer's pose comes from third series, as I said previously. When we're entering into this posture from third series, we come into it from standing, and of course, we've done a ton of poses at this point. It comes towards the end.

Reach the arm out to the front, and we kick the leg up, holding the foot, exhale, take it out to the side, and we flip it around, change our grip, and then we reach the left arm up to the front. Now, the reason that I'm introducing this pose now. It's an advanced pose, by no means is it easy, but we have that same rotation in the shoulder as we have in urdhva dhanurasana and in kapotasana. So it's very beneficial in working on kapotasana to find that action and that effort, and for a lot of people, this is actually, I don't wanna say it's easier, but it's more doable than reaching back to kapotasana. So one way that we can start working on king dancer's is to take a strap, have a little loop on it, and you're welcome to try the third series way.

What gets tricky is just changing the grip. This is where everyone gets confused. (laughs) And we'll come back to this in a second with padangustha dhanurasana, but right now we're holding the foot here, what we actually do is we flip so the thumb faces back, the palm out, and we bring the thumb to the sole of the foot, then from there the elbow comes forward, and then this rotation requires quite a bit of shoulder opening. That's where we get stuck sometimes. So we're gonna use the strap to give us a little bit of space there.

So we'll just loop the strap around our ankle, and this isn't exactly how it feels to be in the pose, but it's certainly similar. And then we'll take the hand so that the palm is facing out, or open, and the thumb starts to point towards the back of the room. Then, from there, facing forward. We'll bend the right knee, and we're gonna use the chopping wood way, so we'll take both hands onto the strap, and we'll start to raise the leg up. Now, look, if the leg isn't really working, then it's all on the arms.

Pull your ribs in, and let the leg actually do some work, so think about dhanurasana, bow pose. So start to kick the leg back, and then walk your hands toward your foot, but don't let the leg be heavy weight. Keep lifting the knee and the foot up to the ceiling. And of course, pull the ribs in and back as you do so. And then we'll release that side.

Release the foot. And we'll go to the other side, so either taking it the third series way, arm out to the front, left leg up, taking the leg out to the side, and then you flip your hand, so now the thumb comes to the top of the foot, and we bring the knee back, then we have to flip the hand again, so that the thumb comes to the sole of the foot, and then we reach the leg out. Of course, it requires a good amount of balance. The other option, taking our strap, looping it around our foot, then holding onto the strap from the front, so the thumb pointing back, hand palm open, out to the side, bending the left knee, then grabbing ahold with the right hand as well, pull the front ribs in, the belly in, and then start to walk your hands up the strap towards your foot, and at the same time use your leg, kick the leg back, and start to lift the foot and the knee up to the ceiling, as you continue to walk your hands in towards the foot. And all this time, wrapping the outer arms around towards your face.

And then releasing that, and coming back to standing. And we'll just set the straps to the side, but keep it close, because we're gonna need it in another second. And bring your feet together. Inhale, reach the arms up. Exhale, fold.

Inhale, look up, lengthen. Exhale, step back and lower all the way to the floor. For padangustha dhanurasana. So padangustha dhanurasana is definitely a challenging pose, it's more possible, again, if we use the strap, so getting into this, plenty of people have the flexibility, actually, but the difficulty is that hand grip, trying to figure that out. So start with the palm open, and the thumb is gonna come right to the sole of the foot, the arch, about.

And the fingers are gonna be on top of the toes. Now, curl your toes back, so that your hand, if the toes are pointed all the way, the hand's just gonna slide off. If you curl the toes back, now you have something stopping the hand from sliding off. Then lift the knee up, just like we did in natarajasana. Lift the knee up, so now your arm doesn't have to do all the work.

Your leg and your arm are working together. Lift the knee up, start to spin the elbow forward, and now we're in half of padangustha dhanurasana. Then, padangustha, so we're gonna actually reach for our gustha, our big toe. (laughs) I'm slipping now. We're gonna hold the foot, and then we start to reach for the toe, again, holding the toe back, and then lifting up towards the ceiling.

So now we're just doing it on one side. I realize that can be out of reach for some of us, so our option is gonna be the same, we do it with the strap. So we just loop the strap around the foot, and hold the strap fairly close to the foot, and reach the elbow forward. Now, as the elbow pulls in towards mid-line, outer upper arm starts to wrap forward, then you start to reach the hand and the knee, foot, up to the ceiling. And the left hand can just be on the floor for support, reaching the chest forward, and you just go to wherever you can without losing the breath.

So breathing, and then we'll release. We'll un-loop our foot, and we'll take the second side. Keep your strap handy. Right hand will go down on the floor, and I kind of move the right hand across, so I'm more balanced. Then we take the left hand back, bring the thumb towards the sole of the foot.

Draw the toes back so that your hand doesn't slide off the foot, then lift the knee up, as you reach the elbow forward, and then you can start to. Now, you can reach for the toe, or in the beginning, that's too much, just hold onto the entire foot, no big deal. Outer upper arm reaching forward, chest reaching forward, knee and foot lifting up to the ceiling. It's almost like you're trying to straighten your leg here. In fact, it can be done by some in that way.

So you can stay with that, or loop the strap around your foot. Turn the palm so that it's facing forward, then we'll reach the elbow forward, and then we'll start to lift the foot towards the ceiling, the knee towards the ceiling, straighten the arm and the leg, over time, maybe here. Over time, maybe it'll start to come a little straighter. And now if you can stay in that pose, start to look at the similarities between this shape and urdhva dhanurasana on the left side. The foot would just, the floor would just be between your hand and your foot.

The foot would be flexed. Okay, and then we'll release. And we have the option to do both sides at the same time. So we'll bend the knees, reach one hand back, thumb to the sole of the foot, elbow coming forward, then we'll take the other hand back, bring the feet together, but the knees will stay apart. This may be where you stay, with the elbows bent, or you may start to reach the legs and the arms straight.

And then releasing, slight slingshot factor as you come out of that, so brace yourself. (laughs) Same with the strap, so we'll bend the knees again, same thing can be done. This time, you'll loop the strap. Now, I suggest, actually, when practicing this, to bring it right below the ankles, so you're in, like, the middle of the foot, and then getting into this can be tough, so start with your elbows on the floor, and grab ahold of the strap, and just keep the strap on the side of your head, and start to press your feet, as you press your feet, you lift your arms up. That gives you, in a sense, of how important the legs are to work here.

Then start to walk your hands up the strap, then start to press the pubic bone down, and lift the feet up, and maybe start to walk the hands closer and closer towards the feet. Regardless of where you're at, you will feel opening in the upper back, the shoulders, and the hip flexors. And then we'll release. And we're done with our strap for today, so we'll just put it off to the side. Let's just take one nice up-dog, 'cause it'll feel so good after all that opening.

Point the toes, inhale and lift. And then exhale, come to the knees. Kapotasana. The deepest pose for sure, in second series, as far as back bending goes. One of the challenges is usually, there's a lot of challenges here, but I think we underestimate how much the legs have to work in order to support the body as we're going into a deep back bend.

I think that, when I first learned kapotasana, I think I had a panic attack every other day (laughs) doing the pose. So, it can bring up a lot, 'cause it's just such a deep back bend, and you're upside down, backwards. Directionally, you're kinda confused. One place where I found it comfortable, more comfortable, to work on the pose, was at the wall. For me, and for a lot of people, the lower back is much more mobile than the upper back.

The shoulders hold a lot of tension, so we can utilize the wall to help us find the areas in our spine that are a little more stuck, and find an opening in the shoulders, so that our lower back isn't taking the burden of the posture, as it so often does. So we come to the wall, with our knees facing away from the wall, feet to the wall, and when we come into it, for second series, we jump to the knees, hands to the hips, and then we press the tops of the feet. I'll see things like this happening with the feet, this, finding that anchor, the whole top of the shin, top of the ankle, top of the foot, planted down into the floor, so important. It's like, you know those chairs that go like this? Yeah, well, that base of the chair is what's balancing the chair.

Think of that, have that image in your head, where that is like that part of the chair, as the tops of the ankles press down, that helps the hips push forward. You push down into the tops of the ankles, the feet, pull the belly in, lift up through the chest, hands here. So much different than, right? We don't wanna go into that pattern. Lifting up into the chest, lifting up out of it, start to lift the chest and let the head go.

This is another thing that I see. We lift up here, but then we're doing this with our head and neck, so let the head go. Look back towards the wall, inhale, and exhale, reach. Now, once we get to the wall, it's not sinking down. Lift up, and then come back up.

Just because we're lifting up out of the low back, sometimes we're told to tuck our tailbone under, and that can be, for some people, they need to find a little bit of it, but what can happen when you do that is you wind up tucking under and clenching the glutes, and thrusting the hips forward, and it'll actually jam up the lower back. I always like the image of just lifting up out of it, because your lower back is absolutely going to bend in kapotasana, that's essential and is a part of the pose. We just wanna make sure that we're getting as much of a back bend in our entire spine as possible, and really finding the opening in the shoulders, as well, so that that is open enough, where it doesn't all have to be done by the low back. Pressing the tops of the feet, pressing the knees down, pulling the belly in, lifting the chest up, tip the head back, and exhale, (exhales loudly) reach towards the wall. Once you're there, you can start planting the hands flat.

Now, think about urdhva dhanurasana here, reach the elbows in, and straighten the arms, lifting the chest up. And then inhale to come up. In the beginning, when you're learning this, if that feels a little too intense, you can come a little further back, and just inhale, lift up, lift up, lift up, press the tops of the feet, and then come up. You'll find that there might be a place here where it starts to turn into this, trying to get to the wall. See if you can continue to lift to the ceiling, as you reach back.

And then you can start inching yourself away from the wall a little bit. We'll do it one more time. On this time, I'm gonna reach to the wall, then start walking my hands down the wall. I'm gonna come a little farther away. Inhale, lift.

Exhale. (exhales loudly) And then you release. That gives you an idea of how you can grow with this modification over time. And if you notice, it's the whole time you're lifting up out of the pose, so that you can stop at any point, and you can come up, really. So when you're coming into kapotasana, if we just let everything collapse down to the floor, then it almost feels impossible to get up out of it, whereas if you maintain that lift, that control, at any point you should be able to come up or down, means that your bandhas are engaged, you're holding your core strong, and most important, you're not jeopardizing your low back.

On that note, we'll go into urdhva dhanurasana now. We'll bring our feet out to the front, and we'll lie down on our backs. Another reason it's important to maintain that strength in coming into kapotasana is, it's an excellent place to start to develop that strength for drop backs. Ideally, by the time we're in second series, we've already developed that, but not all of us have that peace by then. And if we do have that peace, then you can always go deeper with it, as we go into poses like chakra bandhasana, where we're grabbing onto our ankles after drop backs, so we really need that strength in the legs.

So for urdhva dhanurasana, we're gonna set up the feet hip distance. You can use a strap here, over top of your elbows. For today, I'm actually not gonna use it. We're just gonna keep our hands on the floor, with our wrists to the corner of the room. Your head will be an inch or two away from the wall.

The elbows are gonna wanna splay out. Let's try to hold them in, I know that can be challenging, but we wanna squeeze the elbows in, drop the shoulders down the back, lift the chest up, press the hands down, press the feet, and start to reach the knees forward. Knees forward, and slightly in. Instead of just splaying out. As the knees reach forward, they squeeze in.

Pull the belly in, lift the hips up, then we'll press up onto the head, and then pause there. From here, see if you can pull the shoulders back, arm bones into the shoulder socket, and reach the chest towards the wall. Press down into your feet to lift the hips up, squeeze the knees in and forward. Then push into your hands, continue to squeeze the elbows in as you work the arms straight. Now, to emphasize the upper back, we'll start to reach the chest towards the wall and the outer arms around, so you may need to walk your feet in.

Again, pressing the feet, squeezing the knees in, slightly forward. Let's come down. And rest. That aspect of urdhva dhanurasana, where we work on straightening the arms, hugging the elbows in, and reaching the chest to the wall, is gonna access the same part of your upper back and your shoulders, that is gonna be very important as you go into that rotation in kapotasana, king dancer, or padangustha dhanurasana. We'll do that again, setting the hands flat, pressing the feet, lifting the hips, reaching the knees forward and in, coming up onto the head, and then pressing the arms up to straight.

From here, maybe starting to walk the feet in in order to reach the chest to the wall. As you do so, keep dropping the shoulders down the back. And then we'll rest. One thing that I observe when I teach this variation to people is that what can happen is we bypass that opportunity to open that aspect of our shoulders, and let me grab a strap, so I can explain what I mean. You'll take your strap, and we're gonna again make a loop.

You'll want it about a little wider than your shoulders, only because, once you put your elbows through it, then your elbows should be shoulder distance apart. We're gonna use the strap so that we can find that exact spot in our upper back and our shoulders that is stuck. So we'll lie down, separate the feet, and we'll set the hands flat. Then, from here, you wanna actually be able to loosen the strap here, rather than resist the elbows out into the strap. We press down into our feet, push up onto the head.

Here's where we're gonna start wanting to press out into the strap, instead squeeze the elbows in so that we could loosen it. What will happen, often, is that we start to do this, where the elbows start to rotate out. We don't. We wanna keep working towards the elbows facing the wall, so that we can access the upper back in that external rotation, and the knees are also reaching forward. And then we'll come down.

Even if you can do urdhva dhanurasana with straight arms, a lot of us plateau there, and it's worth it to back yourself off, work this effort of the elbows squeezing in, shoulders pressing down the back, so you can get that extra bit of opening. And we'll move the strap off to the side again. Drop backs. Really fun, and quite a bit of work for the legs. Here, we'll do very similar to what we did in kapotasana, only we're gonna start from the floor and walk our hands up the wall.

What I recommend is that, as you're working on drop backs, what I like to see is that people can get their arms all the way straight in urdhva dhanurasana before they start doing drop backs, and that they're strong in their arms. Otherwise, when you're coming down to the floor, if your arms can't go straight to the floor, you'll bend them, hit your head on the floor, and you know, we don't want to wind up with brain damage. (laughs) So let's bring the hands to the floor, and we'll press down into our feet, lift our hips up, reach our knees forward, come up onto the head, and from there, we'll squeeze the elbows in. Come up to straight arms. Now, rather than reaching the chest towards the wall, we wanna do the opposite now, 'cause we need to get the weight out of our hands and into our feet, so we're gonna instead press the knees forward, and then I'm gonna use this great baseboard.

If you're lucky and you have baseboard, that can be helpful. Bring the hands right above the baseboard, and just push towards my feet, then the other hand, push, push, and come on up. And then we can do the same on the way down. If you look, you have to take, you have hands in both. Weight, rather, in both hands and feet, and then what we wanna do is get the weight into the feet, and then the rest is just like straightening the legs to come up, and the spine coils.

The same with the way back, we have the feet not quite as wide as your mat. It depends on your proportions. Everyone's gonna be a little different, and they can be just slightly turned out, too. That can actually make it easier, in the beginning, when you're learning drop backs. Hands come to prayer, just like kapotasana, we lift up out of it, instead of dumping into the low back.

Lift the chest, tip the head back, look towards the wall. And then you can walk your hands down the wall, whole time, pressing the weight to your legs, and the hands to the floor. This might even be a little too far from the wall for some people, you can walk your feet in. And then coming back and down. We do have another tutorial, all on drop backs, which you can reference, as well, if you're just practicing that for the day, or just to get a little more information.

From there, we're just gonna come down to a seated, forward fold. If, initially, you need to just take your time to counter all that back bending, just come into a gentle forward fold, standing or even with your feet separated, go ahead and do so. Otherwise, we'll come all the way down to paschimottanasana, so sitting down. Reaching forward for your feet. Inhale, lift the chest, and exhale, folding forward.

We will stay here for about 10 breaths. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and 10. Inhaling, coming up. And then exhale, let's lie down on our backs for a well deserved shavasana. Coming down, straightening out the legs, giving yourself space around you so you can really flop open, so you'll press your head, get your shoulders underneath you, and just turn the legs out.

Noticing, at least in the first couple moments of shavasana, maybe a minute, noticing anything that's holding on and gripping, and then consciously guiding your mind to those areas, directing the breath to those areas, and relaxing those areas. So much of what it's all about is just having the intention to let go. At first, it's difficult. Over time, it gets easier. It's all the practice.

Scanning your feet, your ankles, your knees, looking for tension, letting it go. Letting the hips relax. Even letting the belly relax, so, in our practice, we hold on through the bandhas, and we tone the lower abdomen. Once we come to shavasana and our daily breathing, we just wanna let that soften and expand and contract naturally. If your mind starts to drift off into thought, either guide it to the sound of the breath, or you can focus it on the sound of your heartbeat.

Just giving yourself a break from thinking. And you're welcome to stay here for as long as you'd like. See if you can always take at least five minutes of shavasana. Slowly start to deepen the breath, and just bring small movements into fingers and toes, and then staying very, very relaxed, and moving from that relaxed place, start to bend the knees, and roll over to the right side. We'll rest on the right side for a few moments.

And then press yourself up to seated, letting your head and neck relax as you come up. And thank you all for your efforts today. Enjoy your back bending, and we'll see you next week. Namaste.


Kate M
What a gift. Your guidance on this backbending odyssey was so reassuring! The pathways into these challenges backbends that you propose are really helpful. Thank you so much, Maria.
Maria Villella
Your Welcome Kate! :)
Nathalie C
I absolutely agree! It was reassuring even as I've struggled for years with getting the opening in my shoulders for natarajasana. The modifications were so helpful and I look forward to using them to open my shoulders and upper back more. Looking forward to more of your classes (this was my first with you :) ).
Eric K
Beautiful instructions and clarifications. Perfect pace that took us deep without struggle.

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