Most yogis aspire to be able to successfully hold some of the more challenging backbending poses. But, in order to achieve that, you must first strengthen your core. Work your core with intention and you’ll be better able to engage those muscles of the back body during forward bends, preventing over-rounding of the lower back, and the front body during backbends, avoiding pushing past what your body can manage. In other words, you’ll be able to not only do these bending moves better, but safer, too!
Try the backbending yoga sequence below to recruit those strong core muscles and get a safer, more effective stretch.
Locust Pose C
Lie on your belly and ground your hip points and pubic bone into the ground, creating your foundation for the pose. From here, extend your legs straight out from your hips, pressing your feet firmly into the ground, and spin your inner thighs up to the sky, reaching your tailbone toward your heels. Now reach your arms straight back and interlace your fingers. Keep your hands clasped as you reach your arms back toward your feet to lift your chest and your feet. Hold for at least 8 breaths.
Revolved Chair Pose
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), step your feet forward and come into Tadasana (Mountain Pose). As you inhale, reach your arms overhead, shift your weight into your heels, and send your thighs back and down to sit in Utkatasana (Chair Pose). Bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra, and as you inhale, lengthen your spine. As you exhale, hook your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh. Keeping your weight even in both feet, drive your left thigh back as you sit a little lower in your right leg. Release your inner thighs toward the mat as you lift your pubic bone up toward the bottom of your sternum. Stay here for 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Low Lunge Variation
From Mountain Pose, step your left leg back and lower your left knee to the ground. Press your front foot and back leg firmly into the ground and roll your left inner thigh back. Then, work to reach your tailbone down toward the floor, lifting your low belly away from your hip points. Reach the bottom of your sternum toward your pubic bone as you extend your arms overhead. Hold here for 5 breaths, then lift your back knee off the mat and move into Crescent Lunge, continuing to work all of the same actions as Low Lunge. Hold Crescent Lunge for 5 breaths, then move into Downward Dog. Switch sides.
Kneel with your knees in line with your hips, pressing firmly into the tops of your shins. Roll your inner thighs back and reach your tailbone down toward the backs of your knees. Place your hands on your hip points and press down on your pelvis to lengthen it away from your low back. On an inhale, press your shoulder blades forward to lift your chest. On an exhale, lift the back ribs away from your low back. When your sternum is facing the sky, reach back with your hands to grab your feet and hold here for 5 breaths. Can you recall all of the work of the crunches in this pose? To come out, press down into your shins to lift your chest skyward, then sit back on your heels. Place your hands over your heart and check in with your breath.
Start in Dandasana (Staff Pose): Sit with your legs straight out in front of you and find a neutral spine. Bend your knees and place your hands on the backs of your thighs, just above your sitting bones. Press your quadriceps into your hands as you lean back to straighten your arms. As you do this, press your shoulder blades into your chest to keep your collarbones lifted. Keeping your knees bent, lift your shins off the ground parallel to the ground, then reach both arms forward, keeping them in line with your shoulders. Work toward straightening both legs as you hold for 5 breaths.
Upward Plank Pose
From Staff Pose, walk your hands back about 6 inches and straighten your arms as you push the floor away. Bend your knees so your feet are on the ground, in line with your hips. As you inhale, lift your spine and hips off the ground for Reverse Tabletop. Keeping your feet facing forward, push into all four corners of your feet, roll your inner thighs toward the ground, and actively reach your frontal hip points up toward your navel. Reach your tailbone to the backs of your knees, then come down and take a breath. Repeat with your knees bent, or do all of the same work but with straight legs for Upward Plank Pose. Move back and forth between Boat Pose and Upward Plank Pose, holding each for 5 breaths for a total of 3–5 times per pose.
From Staff Pose, bend your right leg and place your right foot as close to your right sitting bone as you comfortably can, keeping your left leg neutral. Press the tops of your thighs into the ground. As you inhale, reach your left arm skyward; as you exhale, hook your left arm around your right knee. On an inhale, lengthen your spine away from your sitting bones through the crown of your head; on your exhale, reach your right hand behind you and place your fingertips or palm on the ground. As you inhale, lift your spine on all four sides; on your exhales, twist deeper. Hold for 8 breaths, then repeat on the second side.
Seated Forward Bend
From Staff Pose, reach your arms skyward. Keeping your arms in line with your ears, hinge at your hips to fold halfway forward. Press the tops of your thighs into the ground as you lift your navel toward the back of your body. Reach forward to fold further at the hips and lengthen the front of your spine as much as possible, placing your hands around the soles of your feet. (Use a strap if your hamstrings are tight.) If your hamstrings or low back feel tender, come onto your back and reach your legs to the sky with a strap around your feet. In either variation, maintain the natural curve of your low back and hold for 8 breaths.