Grounded Joy Artwork
Season 2 - Episode 6

Deep and Spacious Backbends

45 min - Practice


With strength and ease, Lydia gracefully guides us in an advanced backbending sequence designed to challenge and inspire you. We move through Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) with Handstand play, progressively building towards deeper backbends to warm and strengthen the spine. This practice is designed to follow the Steady Standing Sequence.
What You'll Need: Mat


Read Full Transcript

(water flowing) This sequence is a backbend flow. Starting with some simpler backbends, which warm and strengthen the spine, and then moving gradually into some more complex backbends to play with. So meet me at the top of the mat. Big toes together, fan your toes away from your big toe, center your heels, hands at the heart. Let the fingertips press and make a little space in the center point of your palm.

Feel the downward pointing tips of your shoulder blades coming down the back and a little bit together like a big arrowhead moving down. Allow your tailbone to join that downward movement. And activate your breath. Your conscious breath that starts to stoke a fire inside of you and also relaxes you. Soften your eyes.

As we progress with the back bending, your eyes might start to bug out of your head a little bit. Notice that. I'll try to remind you. Soften your eyes back into your skull as if you're looking from the back of your skull. Exhale your hands to your sides.

Inhale your arms up. Lengthen your sides. Exhale your hands down by your sides. Inhale your arms up. Slide through the shoulder tissue.

Exhale your hands down by your sides. Surya namaskara, inhale your arms up. Lengthen, exhale, come up and over the creases of your groins. Forward fold, inhale, lengthen your spine. Exhale, make your way to downward facing dog.

Landing your legs if you're jumping. Maybe walk your feet back a little bit. Inhale, roll towards a plank position. Shift onto your toe pads. Slide your shoulders a little bit away from your ears.

Elbows towards the side body, exhale. Take your knees down tops of the feet down and start to come into a knee upward dog. Stretching the belly and the two sides of your spine. Bend your elbows a little bit and swing your upper back through. Exhale, connect your front ribs down towards your pubic bone.

Spine will roll back downward facing dog. And breathe. Let your breath hold the two energies of softness and strength. So if your breath kind of peters out to unconscious and it's too soft, that can happen in the body and the mind. If your breath is too strong, it'll only build tension.

Bend your knees, step or hop forwards. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, fold. Come on up, inhale. Exhale.

Again, inhale the arms up. Exhale, fold. Lengthen the spine, keeping the skull and neck relaxed. Plant your hands, exhale, extra breath here, come up onto your tippy-toes, shift your weight into your fingers, grip your fingers into the floor almost like you were bringing your wrists off the floor. Straighten your arms by hugging your outer arms in.

Lift one foot off the floor. Come high up onto your tippy-toes as you can, almost like you're on point and switch. Pull your front ribs in a little bit without hardening your diaphragm too much and maybe lift both legs off of the floor. I know I made that sound like it was easy, and it's not. Exhale back, inhale, roll forwards, good effort towards the plank pose, shift forwards, exhale, chaturanga.

Upward dog, push the toes back, sink the sacrum in and up, tailbone down. Wide lower back, exhale, pull up and over downward dog, and breathe. Constantly making little shifting adjustments to feel more spacious and to marry those two qualities inside of you of soft and strong. And I also often think of them as masculine and feminine. Exhale, bend.

Step or hop forwards. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, fold. And come all the way up. Inhale, find your plumb line, exhale.

Again, inhale your arms up. Exhale, fold forwards. I like to bend my knees and soften the inner groins there and then strengthen the legs, inhale, lengthen. Exhale, plant your hands, and if you like, you can venture towards coming up onto your toe pads, pulling your ribs and shifting forwards, exhaling up handstand. One leg at a time makes a softer descent.

Upward dog. Downward dog. And breathe. Sometimes shift, sometimes wiggle, sometimes be still. Sometimes invigorate, intensify.

Sometimes calm and soften. On your way up, if you're a hand stander and you'd like to try it, bend the knees. You're gonna feel like you shift the upper back over your fingertip line. So there is an angle in the arms like this. Press strongly into your fingertips and see if you can puff the kidneys out at a point to hover your body.

Exhale for this, bottom of the exhale you're strongest. And come on down, press into your fingertips a lot, and release your arms. Inhale, come all the way up. Exhale. Step feet apart.

Inhale the arms up, slide through your shoulders. Exhale, fold forwards, take your big toes. Inhale, spinal wave into length, elbows wide, exhale, fold. Padangusthasana. See if you can really relax your shoulders and slump them around your ears, and then slowly slide the inner shoulder blade up and make a bit of space around the neck.

Drive your heel into the floor gently. Inhale, come up a little bit, exhale, release your arms. Inhale, come all the way up. Exhale. Inhale the arms up.

Exhale as if you are one big piece, fold forwards. Drive your heels down, pick up your toes, and slip your hands underneath if possible. Inhale, wave your spine into length, exhale, fold. Let it feel good. Those wavy motions.

Even if you don't like them now, you might start secretly wanting to do them later. Unhook your hands, inhales, come all the way up. Feet together as you exhale your hands down in front of your heart. Inhale the arms up. Exhale, soften your knees, fold forwards, take your hands behind your calves or maybe prayer position, and you can kind of squeeze your arms around your legs.

Lean into your big toe, lengthen your inner line of your legs and let your head go. Open your arms, inhale, come all the way up. Exhale, hands to the heart. Moving into the salabhasanas, inhale the arms up. Exhale, fold forwards.

Inhale, lengthen, and however you get back to downward dog, exhale, downward dog. Inhale, plank pose, shift your feet back until it's a nice long plank. Shift forwards, exhale, try to keep your armpits a little soft in chaturanga, inhale, upward dog. Exhale, downward dog. From downward dog, inhale into a plank pose.

Exhale, nice open lower back all the way down onto your belly. So slide your toes out and even walk your thighs away from your pelvis and ground the tops of your feet and slide your toenails towards you until you feel some energy in your legs. Take your hands, thumbs underneath the quadricep muscles. The other fingers just hold the outer thighs as if to hold a little bit of tension moving in with the outer thighs, keeping the femur bones closer together. Drop the tailbone.

Slide the sacrum in and up, and one vertebra at a time roll up. And I was on my chin there, but maybe it'll feel better for you to be on your forehead for that. So depending on your neck, you can either look down in this or you can look a little bit forwards. When you look forwards, your lumbar spine will curve more. So if you're really bendy there, sometimes it's nice to look down.

Exhale, come down. So one more time, inhale, come up. Exhale, come down. Then take your arms out to the sides, come up onto your fingertips, and really root the tailbone, pubic bone, tailbone down, belly back towards the spine, inhale and come up, and exhale and come down. Try not to jam your shoulders.

So if you do as you inhale and come up here, just stay on your index finger and exhale and come down. And then slide your hands forwards. You might be on your forehead or your chin, tailbone down. Sacrum moves in and up, belly hollows back towards the spine, inhale, come up. If it doesn't jam your shoulders, come up like this.

Exhale, come down. Inhale, come up. Legs are a little bit strong and grounded. Exhale, come down. Last one, take your hands behind your sacrum, interlock them.

Tug your tailbone down. Inhale, roll up. Belly scoops back towards the spine. It's soft like a vacuum. Exhale, come down.

This time inhale, come up. Wiggle your hands a little bit up off of your back. If your shoulders feel really sticky, open space in your wrists and exhale and come down. Hands by the lower ribs, inhale into an upward dog, unwind your spine into an upward dog, and just see if you feel a little stronger in your upward dog. Exhale, downward dog.

Coming to standing, bend your knees, step, hop, or float towards the top of the mat. Inhale, exhale, fold. Inhale, come up. Exhale, hands down. Moving into the second salabhasana sequence, inhale the arms up.

Fold, exhaling. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, downward dog. Inhale, plank pose. Exhale, chaturanga.

Soft the armpits, inhale into upward dog. Exhale, downward dog. Inhale, plank pose. Exhale all the way down onto the belly. See if you can come down with your armpits staying relatively soft and the arms strong.

Chin or forehead to the mat, slide your toes back. Hold the outer thighs, connect your femur bones in. This time walk your legs together. With the legs together, root pubic bone and tailbone down, hollow belly a little bit, and then roll up one vertebrae at a time, legs come off this time, shoulders widen, look down or forwards. Exhale, come down everything.

See if you can inhale and come up and stabilize your lower spine. You don't have to come up so high. Let the backbend come into the upper three ribs here. Exhale, come down. Hands out to the sides.

Come up onto your fingertips. Reestablish the internal rotation of your legs. Squeezing legs in towards each other, inhale, come up. Exhale, come down. Inhale, come up.

Exhale, come down. It's not a big movement. Slide your hands forwards. Come up onto your fingertips. Inhale, come up.

Exhale, come down. Inhale, come up. Long lower spine, exhale, come down. Hands behind, interlock your fingers the weird way that you don't normally do it, tug your tailbone down, that feels nice. Inhale, come up.

Fill up the muscles of your lower back. Exhale, come down. So you're almost really not disturbing the lower back too much. Inhale, come up, maybe wiggle. Open the front chest a little bit more.

Widen, exhale, come down super nice. Feel your upward dog here now. To prepare I like to tug toenails in a little bit. And as I come into my upward dog, I can almost try feet together and heels tugging back, which will lengthen your back line super strong. Exhale, downward dog.

And super soft. And come up. Bend your knees, find your full exhalation. Inhale, exhale, fold. And come on up, inhale, grounded, exhale.

Dhanurasana, inhale the arms, come up. Exhale, fold. Lengthen. Dog pose. Plank pose.

Inhale, exhale, chaturanga, armpits, soft armpits, hollow all the way down, separate your knees a little bit. This time bend your knees. You can either reach back one leg, one arm at a time, or you can try interlocking your hands. Coming up into that salabhasana, backbend, stabilizing the low back, bending your shins a little bit towards your hands, and see if you can find them at the same time, which is actually a much more symmetrical movement on your spine. Exhale, come down.

Chin or forehead to the Earth. And then root the tailbone, root the pubic bone, lengthen them away from your skull, slide the sacrum in and up, push your shins into your hands. Dhanurasana. See if you can encourage the backbend to ripple up into the upper tissue of your lungs, which lie right behind your collarbones. One more breath.

Exhale, come down. Upward dog. Widen your femur bones here actually and slide your sacrum in. Exhale back, downward dog. Full next exhalation, find the bounce in the legs.

Step or hop forwards. Inhale, exhale, fold. All the way up, inhale and exhale. Ustrasana, inhale the arms up. Exhale, fold.

Lengthen. Exhale, dog pose. Plank pose. Chaturanga. Wide soft armpits, upward dog.

Dip the tailbone down, downward dog. Hop onto the knees or step onto the knees, or the shins rather. If you have tenderness in your knees, sometimes it's nice to roll your mat over once, especially if you don't have one of these thick mats. So I'll show that. And first off, tuck your toes under like that.

This is an action that I want you to feel in the backbend. Tailbone down, but sacrum back of the pelvis moves in and up so the belly actually lengthens but the anchoring, the tethering down of the tailbone lengthens the lower spine. Then squeeze the frontal hip bones together, and see if you can do all of those actions are so much energy down here, and then there's like a softness and a fluidity in your spine, which feels good. So tailbone anchored, exhale. Sacrum in and up, start to feel that wave.

Squeeze the two frontal hip bones together which will activate your legs. Sweep it in. Maybe we need to have your hands down here pushing down to get that feeling of lengthening in your low back. If there's space, you can come down one arm at a time, or maybe both at the same time to find the heels. You can come out of it at any time by almost curling out of it, and then tailbone down, sacrum in and up, stretch both sides of your belly.

You can elongate through your skull, or maybe if there's space, let your head tip back. Coming up, again, you could shift into one side. Put one hand down on the sacrum to support to come up, or you can really feel that squeeze of the frontal hip bones and really ground down through the shins to come up. That should be the last thing to come up. Exhale.

Curl. Step or hop back downward dog. Elongate your arms and lengthen your lower back as if you had a long tail swinging around back behind you, getting into one side and then the other. Bend your knees. Step or hop forwards.

Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, fold. And come up inhaling. Exhale. Rajakapotasana one, inhale the arms up.

Fold. Lengthen and release the tension that might be in your neck. Exhale, super wide shoulders, downward dog. Inhale, plank pose, chaturanga. Upward dog.

Downward dog. Feet together at the back of the mat. Inhale your right leg up. Try to keep the two hips, the two hip bones equal distance to the floor. Maybe rise your right leg a little bit higher as you root the left heel.

There could be a little bend in your left leg here. Exhale, bring it through, curl your body. Foot on the inside of the hand. Keep your foot like this, on a pivot instead of an angle, and come up. Reach your arms up.

And see if you can really get the feeling on your exhale of hollow in your belly back towards your spine, and maybe on the inhale lifting your back ribs, the back of your diaphragm up off your pelvis. Inhale. Reach through the thumbs. Find that diaphragm lift, exhale, hollow. And then slowly start to wiggle until you're in a nice spacious lunge and bring that left knee to the floor, but you're not sinking into it or collapsing.

It kind of always has the sensation of lift. Then take your hands together at the back of the skull, thumbs together, and maybe just start to find a little upper backbend here. When I say upper backbend, of course you're back bending in the lower spine too but you're putting the emphasis on bringing the back bend up. So for some people actually allow like shift until you're on the top of the kneecap when you bend the leg and allow for a little bit more of a sense of back bending here. This leg might wanna turn inwards and externally rotate the pelvis here a little bit.

So if you can keep it in, maybe move your right leg out to the side a bit and play with this, always staying long and always checking in if there's enough space. And exhale coming out, downward dog, at the back of the mat. Inhale your left leg up and back behind you. Play with lifting that may be a little bit higher without overarching your back. So a little bit of arch in the back.

Be a little permissive in your movement in the spine, but discipline it a little bit. Be wild but not too wild. Exhale, curl forwards, place. Inhale, come up into your lunge. So maybe bend the back knee to get this pelvis to move a little more perpendicular to the floor so it's not tipped forwards.

And once you feel that you could straighten out the leg a little bit, frontal hip bone squeeze, spine is soft, and coming from that feeling of tailbone down, sacrum in and up, you need to stretch the belly to backbend. So don't harden here in an attempt to open up your back. Like it's fluid, exhale, come down without crashing down on your knee. Hands at the back of the skull. Maybe a little bit of a start of a open.

Press your skull into your thumb. So you're getting the lengthening through the last vertebra of your spine, which some people say is your skull. Maybe coming up a little bit. You can move this leg out to the side. It'll give you a little bit more sink.

And play with where is that thing. And maybe it's like there it is. And maybe it's like not today, exhale, downward dog. Finding an edge that you can smoothly and gracefully get out of, bend your knees, step or hop forwards. Inhale.

Exhale, fold. Inhale, come all the way up. Exhale. Rajakapotasana two. Inhale.

Exhale. Lengthen. Downward dog. Plank pose. Chaturanga.

Soft armpits. Downward dog. Feet together at the back of the mat. Inhale the right leg up. Root the left heel, lift it a little bit higher, exhale, curl and bring the knee towards the right wrist.

Walk the left knee back. Start off in this one even if you can go into this 90 degree hip rotation. Bring it in a little bit. It'll be a little bit softer to start. So come up so the feeling of your inner legs is making your pelvis buoyant, and then get those actions.

Tailbone down. Sacrum slides in and up. Two frontal hip bones squeeze together and breathe. Feel that there is some movement in your spine. Hands at the back.

Thumbs at the back of the skull. Lean your skull into your thumbs in an effort to pull your spine out of your pelvis. And then maybe bending this back leg a little bit. And if you can get the ribcage like an accordion to lengthen, maybe you'll find it, maybe you don't, exhale, downward dog. But in the process, you kind of find out who you are a little bit.

Bend the knees. And we'll try the other side, feet together. Inhale, lift your left leg up. Reach it up a little bit higher. Exhale, curl.

Bring it through. And there's this feeling of buoyancy that comes from a strength in the legs. Tailbone down, sacrum in and up, which starts the wave of the backbend. Two frontal hip bones squeeze together. Breathe.

With a strength but a length and a softness, maybe bending, and get as long as you can. Lengthen your elbows up. And exhale coming out. Breathe here. Feet together at the back of mat.

Bend your knees and kind of round your spine and hover your knees above the floor and breathe. Coming up, find that ability to really bend into your legs to shock absorb, exhale fully, step or hop forwards. Inhale, lengthen, exhale, fold. All the way up inhaling. Exhale.

Rajakapotasana three. Inhale. Exhale, fold. Lengthen. Dog pose.

Plank pose. Chaturanga. Upward dog. Downward dog. Feet together, inhale your right leg up.

Exhale it through into like a hero's pose. Let your left knee come down, walk back. So in this one you'll get to see it a little bit better on the other side. Maybe I'll just show you this way. Kind of tug your heel back like we've been doing so that you have quite a lot of strength and you're lifted.

So instead of just sinking right down, which you'll see is a little bit more pressure in the low back, actually coming up a bit like that. It feels very stable. So, getting that action. And it's easy to sort of twist and torque at the hips now. So I want you to feel that squeezing in of the front.

It's like a knitting, a weaving there. And coming up and finding this. And none of these might feel good to lift your back leg. It might feel just wonderful to stay in this. And there's this play like you're lifting up and sometimes you're sinking down.

And exhale. You're almost finished. Inhale your left leg up. Exhale. Bring it through.

And kind of activate your feet. Inhale. Tailbone down. Spinal wave from the sacrum moving in and up. A little bit of a sense of squeezing down low, fluidity in the belly, and back bend.

And exhale. Any of these you could stay longer, shorter. What's happening for you? Bend your knees, step or hop forwards. Inhale, exhale.

Inhale, come up. Like exhale, why do you think yogis back bended? Inhale, arms come up. Exhale, fold forwards. Like what's the link to the mind body connection?

Inhale, come up, exhale, downward dog. From downward dog, just pause. Feet together, inhale, lift your right leg up. Exhale, bring it through into that high lunge, and maybe even a little bit further forward, wiggle. Take your fingertips to the floor, and some people like to have blocks here.

Let your left knee come down to the floor to start. Start to wiggle this foot a little bit more forward. So we're moving towards hanumanasana. That might be a lot. It probably is.

Hanuman did this giant leap from India to Sri Lanka I think it was, and he just made it. So he had to go all the way into the splits pose. And it was all for love. So let's keep that in mind here. So the legs might shear apart a little bit.

Can you draw them in towards each other? And even if this is like really intense, can you soften? And maybe come a little bit lower. Tailbone down, sacrum in and up, frontal sit bones squeeze together. Maybe coming up.

Exhale. Press down into your hands. Hollow your belly out. Step back. Feet together at the back of the mat.

Wag your tail. Inhale, left leg up. Exhale through and sometimes it's possible to like sweep it through a little more if you can curl and make the airspace. And where you're at on this side, it might be quite different. Slowly sinking into it, close your eyes and take a few breaths that hold those two qualities.

The quality of risk, of adventure, of trying something new, and the quality of nurturing and safe. Tailbone down, sacrum in and up, frontal hip bones squeeze together. Exhale. Child's pose. Inhale, roll up.

Shift your shins to the side. Take your legs forwards. Walk your sit bones wide. Find your plumb line. I like to place my hands on my heart here.

I learnt this from my teacher, Joya Erwin. As you drag your sternum down, can you lengthen your spine up, and feel that there's this subtle expansion at the back of your chest. It's like your body goes (sighs). Like I'm home. Pubic bone back shift forwards.

Find that crane line connection of straight, straight, straight, straight, straight, until you hit this limitation. And then round forwards. And if you feel really roundy, anywhere on the spine, can you kind of feel that your belly button wants to slide towards your knees? A few more breaths. If the spine feels like it's poking upwards, can you bring the spine pieces into the skin so that there's smoothness in the back?

Keep that little curl that you have for a couple more breaths. Tuck your chin a little bit and roll up until you find your plumb line again. And come onto your back. Bring your knees in and take the inner shins and with your fingertips around the outer shins like this, knees really wide, kind of like a frog position, and then inhale. Kind of arch your spine off of the mat like an inhaling pattern does, and then exhale and hug your legs inwards and curl.

And inhale and arch a little bit, like not a lot but just it feels sort of a massage towards the tailbone and exhale, curl. This is the pranic pattern. Inhale. A little extension, a little bit of a feeling of lift, and a pranic pattern, exhale, downward movement, a little bit of flexion. One more time, inhale.

Exhale. Happy baby. Hold on underneath your hamstrings, or on top of your hamstrings, hold the ankles or hold the outer feet. Wobble. Press the top rim of the sacrum or maybe the whole sacrum down.

You can play with opening up one leg and opening up the other or opening up both. And shavasana. So if you feel that was a challenge for your lower back and you tend to hold some compression there, you might wanna take the feet wide to plant them. Let the knees fall together. And you could start here and then unravel the legs when you feel ready.

I'm just gonna go right here. It's worth noting that in a really good backbend practice, it doesn't feel like you have to take a long time to decompress your spine. So the space should stay there through the whole practice. And actually, I'm really trying to eliminate should from my vocabulary, so that is not always the truth. Like there's different conditions arising all the time.

But it's just an interesting note. So set yourself carefully up for a profound letting go. Close your eyes, relax your belly, and notice the sensations arising in the body and the mind. Notice the quality of breath. Notice that your body is a musical instrument at all times.

There's a heartbeat. There's a breath sound. Those are all these internal sounds of the organs inside. And what does your piece of music sound like? Sometimes with back bending, it might take a little bit longer to feel super well grounded.

So you might wanna stay here for a longer time than I'm going to today. But if you feel energized and calm, wiggle your fingers and toes, and take your own little sequence of movements to come out of shavasana slowly. That was so brave of you to do that practice. Namaste.


Rosemary Garrison
"Sometimes shift, sometimes wiggle, sometimes be still." I love this. Wise counsel- on and off the mat! ; )
Lydia Zamorano
Rosemary. I'm so happy to see your comments and know that we're wiggling together!
Kelsey L
Beautiful cues to help me with opening my upper chest and the analogies to help me feel the alignment and spaciousness in my spine. Thank you again for your sweet practice.
Sarah S
So thankful for this season of classes, I often return to this series to deepen a daily practice with a class of these fun, smooth flowing advanced postures. Thank you, very skillfully crafted! 
Lydia Zamorano
Hi Sarah ! I love that these give you joy! Thanks for letting me know! Love Lydia 

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