Backbends are demanding and invigorating. They require a combination of flexibility and strength that can vary from person to person. They require patience and preparation. Often our ability to backbend in big and deep ways can be limited by muscular and soft tissue tightness across the front of the hips, around the numerous connections of the spine itself, and across the front and back of the shoulders. Here are three warm-ups focused on stretch and release of these regions to help you deepen your backbends.
Half Reclined Hero Pose
This version of hero pose or virasana will help stretch and release the quads and hip-flexors that often limit one’s range of motion in backbends. This is because that tight quads and hip-flexors can keep the pelvis tilted forward, restricting the spine’s ability to tilt backwards into backbend. In this variation, I have my bum on a foam block, my spine supported by a bolster, and my head supported by a blanket. You can play with the height up or down dependent on your flexibility and desired intensity. I always keep the other leg bent to keep the pelvis stable.
Reclined Supported Backbend
Recline over something to stretch and release through core, lower back, mid back, upper back and chest. I’m purposefully being vague as there are loads of variations here. From lower back on up tightness can creep into any number of positions on the spine. You can have the bolster pretty central as I have here or adjust it up and down dependent on where you feel limited. You can also do this on a wood or cork brick running parallel to the shoulders or perpendicular for a different release across the chest. You can use a rolled or folded blanket. There are even specially designed backbending wheels you can roll yourself over. The point is you can experiment with different heights and angles to begin opening across the numerous soft-tissue connections that limit your range of motion in backbends. Props are there to support you into the release and tell the muscles and connective tissue that they can let go a bit. I kept my knees bent so it wasn’t too extreme, but you can straighten your legs if you like. Avoid making it too intense as that can have the opposite effect of making things seize up.
Dancer’s Pose with Strap
We’ve worked our way up from front of hips through core and spine, and now we’ve arrived at the shoulders. Many backbends (namely upward-facing bow and variations, inverted backbends, dancer and pigeon pose backbends) require arm over head shoulder flexion. In this variation of dancer’s pose, I have strapped my foot and am using the force of pushing my foot back to help stretch both the muscle groups on the front of my chest and the muscles and connective tissue that limit the range of motion of my arm over head. I’m not trying to get the foot to my hand (and couldn’t even if I tried!). Be sure the top arm is in external rotation and use as much strap as you need (but no more) to make the pose sustainably intense.