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Season 3 - Episode 8

Expand Your Backbends

40 min - Practice


With an intimate understanding of anatomy and precise cueing, Padma guides us through a practice designed to open and expand our backbends. She begins with instruction on how to inspire the breath and spread the ribs. We continue to open with seated twists and simple lunge salutes to prepare for Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). We finish with a calming sequence of forward folds and simple inversions.
What You'll Need: Blanket (2), Strap, Block (2)

About This Video

Aug 29, 2015
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(calming ocean waves) Hello and welcome. And today we are going to do a back bending series. So I'm going to have you do to start off is place your hands on your rib cage. Gonna have you try to walk your hands as far back as you can so you feel the front, sides and the back of the rib cage. And just feeling the shape of your rib cage.

Good and then as you breathe, feeling how the ribs move, before you make any adjustments. Just allowing the in breath to move the rib cage. And then feel what happens on the out breath. Good and on your next in breath see if you can send the breath back towards your thumb. Thumbs, right side, left side.

And the space in between the thumbs. So you're spreading the thumbs almost away from each other as you inhale. Good. And exhale. And see if you even when you exhale you can keep that sense of width or space across the back of the rib cage.

And one more inhale sending the breath back feeling the thumbs separate just a little away from each other. Good and can you keep that sense of the back ribs lifting, widening, spreading as you exhale? Good, one more, close the eyes. Draw your attention in. Last time, inhale.

Feeling the breath move back into the back of the rib cage. So the hands at the bottom part of the rib cage basically where your diaphragm is so we're asking the back of the diaphragm to engage and to push out. Or rather, to move the ribs. So that muscle, the back of the muscle gets to work as well as the front. And then slowly release and as you exhale can you keep the sense of the back ribs nice and wide?

And then release your hands, bring your hands to your thighs, keep the eyes closed. Good, now the back of the body, so you just had your finger or your thumb tips on the back of your body so there's that kinesthetic sense of the back line of the body and feeling a sense of lift or length from the tailbone right up to the base of the skull. And then can you move your awareness forward in your body towards the front of your spine? So not the front surface of the body or the front skin of the body but the front of the spine. Behind the organs and the pelvis.

Behind the intestines, behind the lungs and the heart. And that sense of length from the front of the sacrum to the top of the throat. Good, and then let's bring the palms together in front of the heart. You can even open the eyes for this next moment. So feeling that the lift of the back of the spine, the lift of the front of the spine and the lift of the front of the body now all together, all three levels.

Good, letting the chest lift and roll up towards the chin and letting that allow the shoulder blades just to slide down the back. Not even pulling them, just letting them drape. And keeping the back lifted and wide. Good and then release that. Good, so I'm sitting on two blankets.

Sometimes that helps to be higher just puts more ease in the lower back. And I also have two blocks and a strap. And we'll use those later on. So I'm going to stay up on the blankets for this next position. And stretch the legs forward.

So bending the left leg and you want to still feel like you're sitting on your sitz bones. So if you feel like you're rolling back towards your tailbone then walk your left foot forward. And if you feel quite easily seated on your sitz bones you can walk your left foot in. So that same lift of the back of the spine, the front of the spine and the front of the body. And tucking left arm to the inside of that left leg.

And bringing the right hand behind you on the floor. So the legs stay pretty stable. So my left knee is pressing against the left arm. Left arm pressing against the left knee. That right leg, if anything is a little heavier on the inner heel and the inner thigh.

The left foot is a little heavier on the inner foot and inner heel. Good, neck is nice and long. I'm just taking my time feeling the pelvis heavy, the legs heavy. The back of the body nice and long, the front of the spine long, front of the body lifting. And that same sense of lifting the chest just enough to let the neck settle back.

The jaw relax, the shoulders relax. And just slowly as the body warms, as the body feels comfortable slowly twisting. And come back to center. Stretch that left leg forward. Then the right leg.

Right arm comes to the inside. So again feet heavy, hips heavy. So that I can sit up quite easily. I don't need my hands to sit up. But I'm using my hands to help balance and turn.

Good, heavier on the inner foot, big toe side of the foot on that right foot. Little more weight on that inner heel on the left foot. Good, neck nice and long. Back of the body lifting. Front of the spine lifting.

Front of the body lifting, chest lifting. Again letting that help release the neck back, the throat back, the head back. The eyes soften. And using the hands just to quietly turn the body. Good, feeling the belly turn.

The whole rib cage turn, the back of the rib cage, sides, the front. Remember where your thumbs were on your back and can you let the breath fill out that area? Widen between those two thumbs that aren't there. And come back to center. And stretch your right leg forward.

So I'm going to take right leg in again. And this time I'm going to turn across that right leg. So again if the foot needs to be further out to get the belly across then please do so. So I'm working to get the elbow to the outside of the knee. If you need to use the hand to pull, do so, otherwise bring elbow across.

Good, and then lengthening back of the body, front of the spine, front of the body. Lifting the chest. A little heavier on the inner feet, inner heels. Good, lifting the chest enough to release the throat, the neck, the head back. And turn.

Good and release to center. Stretch that right leg forward. Bend the left leg. And let's turn across the left knee. So turning the belly, the belly button first, the pubis even turns toward the left.

The ribs turn, then bring that right arm across. So weighting, again a little more weight in the inner feet. So that the legs don't fall open. They stay pretty parallel. Back of the body, long front to the spine, long.

Front to the body, lifting. Good and remembering where your thumbs were and that widening across the back of the lower ribs where the diaphragm is. Good, letting your breath drop just enough so you can feel the belly and the ribs turn. The shoulders and the collarbones turn. The shoulder blades, the chest get wide, the back get wide.

So the eyes are just witnessing rather than leading. And release. And come back to center. Okay, so putting my blankets off to the side, and coming on to hands and knees. Good, palms under shoulders, knees under hips.

Good, feeling my hands spread into the floor. Good, feeling my shoulder blades sitting on my ribs. So just slightly cinch the shoulder blades in towards the spine. Slight, and then can you slightly lift the ribs up into the shoulder blades? So again, remember where your thumbs were on your back and can you let your breath help you fill out the back of the rib cage?

So not just even down where your thumbs were but the whole lower, middle, upper back. Nice and wide. Good and then let's turn fingers in towards the mid line. On the right hand, notice what happens what changes happened in that right shoulder. Can you reorganize the shoulder blade on the rib cage and the rib cage up against the shoulder blade?

So I'm a little hyper extended in that right arm I'm just going to try to stack my arms. I stack the lower arm bone over or under the upper arm bone. Good, and then left arm in. And this arm doesn't straighten so I'm just trying to organize my shoulder in relationship to the shape of arms as they are. Good, right hand out.

Left fingers out. Focusing on what's happening more in the shoulder blade area. Rib cage, back nice and wide, full, neck nice and long. Good, and then let's point right fingers back. Little more challenging so if you need to bring the knees forward, get some of the weight off of or to change the angle.

So if the knees are too far back and this angle is quite small you can shift your weight forward to open up that angle. Good, right hand forward, left fingers back. Again, focusing on what's happening in the shoulder blade, ribcage relationship. Neck relationship to ribcage. Shoulder, arm, shoulder blade.

And then left fingers forward. Then I'm going to come down onto my forearms. Good, and arms parallel to each other. Good, knees under the hips. Good.

And so I'm just going to take the right hand forward and over to the left side of the mat. So it's in front of that left hand. Good, and reaching that right arm forward as if I could push the front of my mat away from my knees. And then pull my hips back. Not a lot of movement outwardly.

Just feeling the front of the armpit open. Good, maybe a little turn at the belly to the right. Just slightly different stretch. And then turning the belly to the left. Good and come back to where you started.

Other side, left hand comes across to the right. Reaching that left hand down and forward. So the elbow isn't straight as is or can be. Good and hips drawn back. Alright and sometimes we need to reach the shoulder blade with the hand and sometimes we need to anchor the shoulder blade with the hips.

Find what gives you more space and stability. Turning the belly to the left. Turning the belly to the right. Good and come back down onto forearms. Okay so now we're going to turn my palms, to face each other and pressing the palms together.

So, important focus points, palms stay pressing together one, you know, one hand is going to want to fall away or both hands. But keep the palms pressing together. Other point of focus is the hand outer hand on the floor. Good, the forearm on the floor, elbow on the floor, so this whole forearm outer hand stays in contact. Good, so again feeling the shoulder blade sit on the ribs.

But then as I lift up right as I turn the toes under and lift up I want to be able to lift the ribs then up into the shoulder blades. To lift up. Good, if the knees need to stay bent that's fine, the focus is really on pressing the hands down, down, down, down, and lifting the ribs up. Letting the breath help you. So remembering again where your thumbs were, can you find your breath back there?

The back of the body. Good, come up onto the balls of the feet just to lift the hips higher and press the hands down to lift the ribs up, spine up, pelvis up and then maybe the heels come down not very important. Not even important that the leg straighten. They can be bent. Good, and then lowering the knees to the floor.

Come back onto all fours. Good, pressing the hands down, and forward. And same feeling, right, that I want to keep the ribs up against the shoulder blades. So when I turn the toes under I really get the back lifting up. The back nice and wide.

The whole back of the ribcage wide. Again, coming up onto the balls of the feet. So you're really standing in your arms, standing in your hands. Good, ribs lift, spine lifts, pelvis lifts and then maybe draw the hips back, maybe thighs back. Maybe heels down.

Good and then let's walk feet to hands. Hands to feet. Ukanasana, letting the head hang just for a moment. So not staying long, just going to bend the knees really stand down in my legs, let the head be passive, the arms be passive. Front of the body rolls up the back of the body.

And I'm going to grab my blocks before I come to the front of my mat. And just put them there to have them. And then standing feet together. Good, if you can bring in your big toes and your heels to touch. If you have bunions, like the idea of bringing the big toes to touch just to help the legs gravitate towards each other to feel unified for a moment, even if it doesn't look as you think it should.

Good, feeling just the sense of the pelvis floating back over or standing over the heels and the ankles. Feeling the spine standing over the heels and the ankles. And the head standing over the heels and the ankles. Good and then let's taking the arms wide. And as we reach through the arms the back gets wide, the chest gets wide.

So even though there's this width I'm still thinking about the verticality of the body, the length of the back of the body, front of the spine, the front skin of the body. Let's turn the palms up towards the ceiling. And does that help lift the chest? And start to bring the arms up. So the shoulders, they go up with the arms but they also hang down with the feet, with the hips, with the back.

Can you remember where your thumbs are? And widen in the back. Good, take the arms wide again and let's sweep the sitz bones back. So the bottom of the pelvis sweeps back to tip the pelvis over the legs. Good, alright leg back into a lunge.

Just feeling that strength of your own legs, really standing in your feet, left foot, right foot. And back to downward-facing dog. Good, maybe coming up on to the balls of the feet so you can feel how much you can press through the arms and then let the inhale help you lift, the lungs, the ribs, the spine, the pelvis up. Keep moving up as you send the legs back. Good, inhale to plank pose.

Good, so feeling the shoulder blades on the back again. So feeling the ribs lifting up into the shoulder blades just like the floor is pushing against the hands. So as I bend my arms I'm still keeping the ribs lifting up, up, up into the shoulder blades. Up, good, and then pushing from my legs, pushing from my hands to come up upward-facing dog. Good, keep pressing the floor away with the hands with the feet.

I'm still lifting the back of the body. The front of the spine, the front skin of the body. downward-facing dog. Right foot to hands. Good, feel the stand in your feet, the stand through the right leg, the stance through the left leg.

And pushing off, both feet front of the mat, let the head drop. Good, so hands on the outer legs just to help re, or engage the legs. So the legs are standing down quite strongly. Hands on hips, inhale to come up. Good, inhale the arms up.

Same feeling, reaching wide to get the chest and the back wide. Turn the palms up, arms up. Good, sweeping sitz bones back, fold over the legs. Good, right leg back again. This time bringing the back knee to the floor.

And let's grab our blocks. So I'm walking, going to walk my blocks back until they're alongside my hips. And I really want to stand in my left leg and press the weight back into the back leg. So the back foot is heavy, the back knee is weighted. Where there's a sense of standing in the back leg.

Good and both legs almost feel like they could help scoop the spine up. Again back of the body lifts. Front of the spine, skin of the front of the body. So if this gives you more confidence to have your hands on the block and work to lift up off of your hands you could stay there otherwise take the arms wide. Turn the palms toward the ceiling.

And the arms come up. Good, hands down. Downward-facing dog. Right foot forward. Left knee down, hands on blocks.

Good, pushing off the front leg. So as I push off I'm trying to push the pelvis, right that's tipping forward I'm trying to push it upright. The top of the pelvis up and back. So that I can sit a little more clearly between two legs but also on the back leg. So there's weight in the back foot, the back knee.

Walking the blocks back. Good, allowing the top of the pelvis to come back. Allowing the ribs where the thumbs were to get nice and wide. Good, arms wide. Palms up, arms up.

Good, hands to the floor. And let's just step forward, fold over the legs. Good, remind the legs to find they're, under this dynamic quality not pushing in, not pushing out, but standing strong. Good, almost as if you could stand down through the floor. Again feeling the balance of the pelvis back over the heels.

Right so the toes help us negotiate our balance but let the weight stand on the heels. The spine stand over the heels. And arms go wide again, turn the palms to the ceiling, arms go up. Good, really lifting back. Front of the spine, front of the body.

You can even bring the palms together and just dive up. Good, again sitz bones sweep back, spine folds over legs. Right leg back again. Left leg back again. And we're just going to come through plank.

And down onto the floor. Okay. We're just going to put blocks over here for a moment. So we're just going to take a moment to put my head on my hands. So I want you to feel where your pelvis is resting on the floor.

The pubis and the front of the pelvis. So even if they're not on the floor they're quite heavy towards to floor. I'm just going to slowly bend my knees. Pick the feet up, bend the knees. And as I bend my knees jut noticing as the pubis lift off the floor can you keep it on the floor?

With as little effort as possible. And then let's lower the legs back down to the floor. Good, and then again keeping the pubis heavy on the floor and slowly pick up. Pick up the feet, bend the knees. Good, and keep the legs there.

So I'm going to release my head back to the floor bring my hands back to my feet. Hopefully find feet, maybe ankles. Holding ankle. And again I just want to play with getting the pelvis to feel, like it's in an easy place. So I can even do a couple cat-cow poses here.

Letting the sitz bones push towards the floor. Letting them lift slightly. Letting the back feel long as the sitz bones move towards the floor. Letting the belly feel all. Good, and then from there, just thinking about the upper arms lifting away from the floor.

Good, and then the knees moving away from the upper arms and the armpits. And the arms moving away from the knees and then we're just going to slowly start to move knees away from arms. Arms away from knees. Knees back. So the sides of the body get quite long.

Good, and sometimes if my back doesn't feel ready here I can even make little circles with the knees. Just to explore movement so you're not getting locked into feeling like you can't move. And slowly come down. And extend the legs. Good, pushing up onto all fours.

Just going to come into downward dog for a breath or two. And then come onto my knees. So now I'm going to take the blocks again. So you may or may not need the blocks but I'm going to put them by the feet. So if back bending is quite easy for you you might want to put the block between the feet.

So if back bending is not quite as easy for you, we're going to take the arm up and back. You can have a block there if the foot is too far down. So with the toes curled under for the first one, and again, there's finding this place, where the pelvis feels easy or the back feels long and there's this balance between the belly and the back, so I'm just going to do a few. Cat-cow. Just to remind the back to stay long.

So that the belly gets a little more balanced with the back. And it doesn't mean I have to hold it, it's more that the body goes, oh this feels right. This feels good, I like this place. Okay, so the first one I'm going to do is on the blocks and the second one I'll do the blocks between the feet. So arms go wide.

Same feeling we did in the sun salutations, arms go up. Good, that same sense of width across the back. Lifting and widening the back. And then as let's take the right arm back to the block. Still lifting through the spine.

Left arm comes back. Still lifting back of the body, front of the spine, front skin of the body. So head can stay up, but can you find the place where the chest is so lifted the head falls back? Pressing the feet to come up. Sit back just for a moment.

Okay, and then come up again. So this time I'm going to put the block between the feet. Just to give you a little sense of strengthening through the legs or reaching through the legs to go up. Good, arms go wide, turn the palms up, arms go up. Keeping that length through the legs, through the spine, through the arms.

And then right arm comes back, left arm comes back. Good, spine lifts up. Good, press into the feet to lift up. Good, and sitting back on your heels. Yay.

So, next I'm going to take my strap and I'm just going to make a loop with my strap. This is the hardest part, making the loop. It does help if you have the emblem on the outside. Okay we're going to make a strap. So I want it wide enough so that when it's around my thighs, my thighs are about hip distance apart.

And I'm going to lay on my back. Okay, here we go. Okay, so I want to feel my feet pretty clearly on the floor. So just going to put my strap off to the side so you can see. And arms alongside the body just for a moment.

So feeling the upper arms sit back on the floor so the chest gets nice and wide. And the back again, trying to find some sense of width using the floor to find some width. The back of the pelvis, the back of the lower rib cage where the thumbs were, and the upper back. Good, and then I'm going to stand down through my legs as if I can press down through into the feet and lift the thighs up first. Good and stand down through the feet and lift the thighs up first.

Right so that the thighs start to lift the pelvis and then the spine. Good, and slowly lower down. Good, and you can even, I'm actually going to widen my strap just a tiny bit so my feet are a little wider for today. And now I'm going to bring my hands in place for upward bow, urdhva dhanurasana. So this one is not so easy for me.

So the hand and wrist prep, the armpit opening. So to get the whole front of the body from the fronts of the lower legs, the front of the thighs, the front of the hip. Front of the belly, the armpit, the whole length of the arm and the wrist, that's a lot to get open. So, you take it in bits. So here I actually like to play with making little circles with the elbows.

Just to release the arm away from the sides of the body. Or just to get some ease. And then let the shoulder blades sit back on the floor. Spread the hands into the floor. If you need, if it helps to turn the hands wider, if you spend a lot of time on the computer sometimes turning the hands out does help.

So extending down through the feet. Lifting the thighs up first, the thighs start to lift the pelvis up. Good, remembering what you felt in dhanurasana. How do you keep the sitz bones almost connected to the backs of the legs? Good, and then starting to press into the hands.

Let's come onto the top of the head for a moment. Good, standing down through the legs. To come up. And down you come. Let's do one more.

So hands in place, you ready? Hands in place. So again if it doesn't feel right then you play with it, like learning how to play in your practice. So hands down, standing down through the feet. These long lines, these long legs.

Hold on let me just adjust my strap it keeps slipping. Okay. Good, lifting the thighs. The sitz bones staying just slightly connected to the backs of legs just a little, just to open up the front of the hip. Good, pressing down through the hands.

Stopping on the head for a moment. Good, and then pressing. Good, and release. So let's take the strap off. Good, just feeling the weight of the legs.

Let your breath flow in and out, letting your back settle. And just waiting, giving yourself a moment. Good, and then again just a little cat-cow. Just to remind the body. If the back felt like it got too short remind the back to lengthen.

Good, one simple thing, let's take the right ankle onto the left knee. We're just going to tip over to the side. Just simple little, simple twist. Just staying for a breath. And up to center.

And other side, so the left ankle onto the right knee, just holding the ankle. And letting the left foot fall to the floor. And so the foot becomes stable and the hip just hangs off the foot in a way, in a manner. And then come back up. Both feet on the floor.

Okay, and then rocking up to sit. Okay so this next series, it's a fluid vinyasa. But doing what you can do and editing it the way that you need to edit it for your body. And we'll do it three times so do what you can and see if it gets easier. So I'm going from forward bend, paschimottanasana.

Nice and easy, nothing, not pulling into anything. Halasana. Good, hands on the back. Lifting the hips to lift the legs. Sarvangasana.

Halasana. Feet to the floor over head. Good, rolling up to navasana. Either knees bent, or legs straight. Feet to the floor, simple twist.

Really simple. Both sides, right side, left side. Baddha konasana. Paschimottanasana. Nice and easy, if the knees need to be bent, that's fine.

Halasana, feet over head. Good, and then hands to the back, legs lift. Feet down. Good, rolling up to sit. Good, simple twist.

Good, baddha konasana. Legs straight forward, simple fold. Good, rolling, feet over head, back to the floor. Good, lift the hips up off the shoulders to lift the legs. Good, feet to the floor.

Good, rolling up to sit. Straight legs or bent. Simple twist to the right. To the let. Knees open out, fold.

Good, legs straight, fold. Okay, so then I'm going to take my strap again. You just take all your props and put them on top of your legs. So, take my block. Take my strap around my legs.

Put my blankets on there. I meant it, all the props. Lay down on your back. Good, feeling the legs settle, right leg, left leg, the arms settle. The back of the body settle.

Front of the body, the back of the head. And the face. Good and just keep watching the body settle. The buttocks, the pelvic floor, the belly. The throat, the eyes.

And again please stay as long as, necessary, so because back bends can be quite stimulating, allowing the time for your nervous system to settle back down. Come into a place where it, you feel awake and alert, but calm. And when you feel like getting up, stay a little longer. Namaste.


Frederic M
Thanks Padma! Feeling the expansiveness of the back body really transforms the back bends and makes them so much more enjoyable!

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