The backward bending series, energize, refresh and invigorate the body. Because these poses open the chest, expand the lungs and literally turn the body out to face the world, they are renowned for stimulating and extroverting the body and mind.

Backward bends are often dynamic postures which move to counter gravity and therefore require and build energy and strength, especially in the wrists, arms, legs, buttocks and spine. Bending the spine backwards stretches and releases the muscles of the chest allowing circulation to flow freely to the heart and lungs. This action activates the respiratory and circulatory systems.

During backward bends the nervous system is stimulated, building heat and vitalizing the metabolism. The lymphatic system is favourably influenced when the thymus is pressured, and also by the stretch received through the lymph nodes and glands. Meanwhile the abdominal muscles are lengthened, toning and igniting the digestive system.

Just when you thought backward bends couldn’t be more healthful, there’s more! The spinal nerves, which give energy to all the other nerves, organs and muscles in the body, are sparked and regulated to result in a clearer more positive state of being.

Fish Pose

Matsyasana

  • Begin sitting in Lotus (Padmasana).
  • Support the body with the arms and elbows and carefully bend the body backward.
  • Lift the chest and lower the crown of the head to the floor.
  • Rest the elbows on the floor and hold the big toes with the hands.
  • Make any adjustments required to maximise the arch in the back.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release by reversing the order of movements.
  • One round is usually sufficient.

Breathing

  • Relaxed natural breathing.

Awareness

  • The expansion of the chest, lungs and throat.
  • Ajna or anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High or low blood pressure.
  • Neck conditions.
  • Back conditions.
  • Migraines.
  • Knee problems.
  • Pregnancy.

Benefits

  • Induces relaxation.
  • Helps to relieve sciatica.
  • Relaxes the nervous system.
  • Blood flow from the legs is redirected to the abdomen, stimulating the digestive system.
  • Stretches and stimulates the organs of the belly and throat.
  • Strengthens the muscles of the upper back and back of the neck.
  • Improves posture.

Practice note

  • Having the legs in padmasana is demanding on the knee and ankle joints. Until flexibility of the knees has been developed, practiced in another seated position or with the legs straight as described in the variation.

Variation

  • Lie on the back on the floor with the legs straight and the feet together. Lift the pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide the hands, palms faced down, below the buttocks. Rest the buttocks on the backs of the hands. Press down on the forearms and elbows to lift the upper torso and head from the floor. Carefully lower the base or crown of the head to the floor and tuck the forearms and elbows in close to the sides of the torso. Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release by reversing the order of movements.

Cow’s face pose

Gomukhasana

  • Begin sitting in Hero’s Meditation Pose (Dhyana Veerasana) with the right leg on top.
  • Stretch the right arm up towards the ceiling, bend the right elbow and lower the right hand down the centre of the back.
  • Take the left arm out to the left side, bend the elbow and move the left arm up the centre of the back.
  • Stretch the hands towards each other aiming to clasp them behind the back.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release the arms, straighten the legs and repeat to the left by having the left leg on top of the right and the left elbow above the head.
  • One round is usually sufficient.

Breathing

  • Relaxed natural breathing.

Awareness

  • The expansion of the chest and lungs.
  • Ajna or anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Shoulder injuries.

Benefits

  • Induces relaxation.
  • Helps to relieve sciatica.
  • Stretches the outer thigh muscles
  • Massages and tones the pelvic and reproductive organs.
  • Improves posture.

Practice note

  • Ensure the spine, head and neck are aligned.

Modifications

  • This can be practiced from another seated position if Hero’s Meditation Pose (Dhyana Veerasana) is not appropriate.

Lizzard

Utthan prishthasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the arms crossed underneath the chest and hold the upper arms with the hands.
  • Separate the feet slightly and tuck the toes under.
  • Place the chin on the floor if comfortable or have the head slightly raised and gaze forward.
  • Keep the elbows and knees firmly planted into the floor and raise the torso and buttocks so that the shoulders are above the elbows and the torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Arch the lower spine, stretch the torso back and place the chin and chest on, or as close to, the floor behind the forearms.
  • Hold for a few seconds the reverse the movement by coming through the parallel position then lowering the torso down to once again lie on the stomach with the arms crossed underneath the chest.
  • Practice up to 10 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while raising the torso.
  • Exhale while lowering the chest and chin behind the forearms.
  • Inhale while raising the torso.
  • Exhale while lowering the torso down to lie on the stomach.

Awareness

  • The stretch in the upper arms, shoulders, chest and back.
  • Balance and smoothness of the movement.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Manipura or anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.

Benefits

  • Tones the abdominal organs.
  • Stretches the neck, shoulder, back and chest.
  • Strengthens the chest and diaphragm.
  • Improves posture.

Bridge pose

Setu asana

  • Sit in the Seated Base Position (Prarambhik Sthiti).
  • Place the palms of the hands either sides of the body, about 30cm behind the buttocks.
  • Keep the elbows straight, point the fingers back and slightly recline the torso.
  • Keep the arms and legs straight and raise the buttocks off the floor by lifting the hips up.
  • Extend the toes towards the floor and let the head stretch comfortably back and down.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable, then release by lowering the buttocks to the floor.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Retain the breath inside while raising the body and holding the final position.
  • Exhale while lowering the buttocks to the floor.

Awareness

  • The wrists, arms, back and abdomen.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Manipura chakra.

Contraindications

  • Weak wrists.
  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.
  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Tones the lumbar spine.
  • Stretches the neck, shoulder, back and chest.
  • Strengthens the shoulders, thighs and wrists.
  • Improves posture.

Practice note

  • Experiment with the distance between the hands and feet to find a suitable position.

Modifications

  • Begin seated on the buttocks with the hands behind the body. Bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor, hip width apart. Practice in the same way instructed above, allowing the legs to help support the arms. As the strength in the arms develops the feet can be gradually straightened.

Half moon pose

Ardha Chandrasana

  • Begin in Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana)
  • Once balanced, raise the hands from the floor and bring the palms together in front of the chest.
  • Keep the palms together and raise the arms up over the head.
  • Arch the arms, head and torso back slightly.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then lower the hands back in front of the chest and to the floor, returning to Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana)
  • To release, roll the body weight back and smoothly centre the weight on the front foot and back knee.
  • Continue the forward and backward lunges on this side up to 10 times.
  • To release, stand on both knees then return to Thunderbolt pose (Vajrasana) and relax.
  • Practice the same amount of rounds to the other side.

Breathing

  • Exhale while moving forward into Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana).
  • Inhale while raising the arms.
  • Exhale while lowering the arms.
  • Inhale to release Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana).

Awareness

  • The openness of the chest and throat.
  • Balance and smoothness of the movement.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Vishuddhi or anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Knee problems.
  • Injured ankles.
  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.

Benefits

  • Tones the abdominal organs,
  • Stretches the neck, shoulder, back and chest.
  • Strengthens the hips, legs, ankles and feet.
  • Induces balance in the nervous system.

Practice note

  • Ensure the shin of the front leg is at a 90 degree angle with the floor.

Shoulder pose

Kandharasana

  • Lie down on the back.
  • Bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor with the heels as close to the buttocks as comfortable. Keep the thighs and inner feet parallel.
  • Extend the arms down towards the heels and take a hold of the ankles if possible.
  • Engage the inner feet and arms and actively press them into the floor.
  • Raise the buttocks and arch the back upwards.
  • Lift the chest and navel to bring the sternum towards the chin.
  • Clasp the hands below the pelvis and extend through the arms.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly roll the spine down onto the floor.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while taking a hold of the ankles.
  • Retain the breath when raising the torso.
  • Breathe deeply while holding the pose.
  • Exhale to release.

Awareness

  • The expansion of the chest and abdomen.
  • The thyroid gland.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Vishuddhi or anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Back conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to relieve backache.
  • Tones the heart and lungs.
  • Beneficial for respiratory disorders.
  • Improves posture.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive and reproductive system.

Practice note

  • Roll the shoulders under to further extend the chest up.

Bow pose

Dhanurasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the arms beside the body, legs straight and the feet together.
  • Bend the knees to bring the heels towards the buttocks.
  • Stretch the arms behind the body and take a hold of the ankles.
  • Rest the chin on the floor.
  • Tense the legs and push the feet backwards.
  • Arch the back and lift the thighs, chest and head together.
  • Allow the lower back muscles to remain passive and use the strength of the legs to lift and open the chest.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release the legs and lower the chest and head to the floor.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while taking a hold of the ankles.
  • Retain the breath while raising the head and chest.
  • Breathe deeply while holding the pose.
  • Exhale to release the legs and lower the head and chest.

Awareness

  • The lower back, abdomen and heart.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Manipura or ajna chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Back conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to relieve lower back pain.
  • Tones the heart and lungs.
  • Beneficial for respiratory disorders.
  • Improves posture.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive and reproductive system.
  • Promotes circulation.
  • Strengthens leg muscles.

Practice note

  • Place a blanket under the hips for extra padding.

Easy bow pose

Saral dhanurasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the arms beside the body, legs straight and the feet together.
  • Bend the knees to bring the heels towards the buttocks.
  • Stretch the arms behind the body and take a hold of the ankles.
  • Rest the chin on the floor.
  • Root the knees and thighs into the floor, tense the legs and push the feet backwards.
  • Keeping the arms straight, raise the head and chest from the floor.
  • Allow the lower back muscles to remain passive and use the strength of the legs to lift and open the chest.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release the legs and lower the chest and head to the floor.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while taking a hold of the ankles.
  • Retain the breath while raising the head and chest.
  • Breathe deeply while holding the pose.
  • Exhale to release the legs and lower the head and chest.

Awareness

  • The lower back, abdomen and heart.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Vishuddhi chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Back conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to relieve lower back pain.
  • Tones the heart and lungs.
  • Beneficial for respiratory disorders.
  • Improves posture.

Practice note

  • Place a blanket under the hips for extra padding.
  • Keep the knees and thighs in contact with the floor throughout the practice.

Locust pose

Shalabhasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the legs straight and the feet together.
  • Place the hands either under or beside the body with the palms facing down or fingers interlocked.
  • Rest the chin on the floor.
  • Press down through the arms, engage the lower back muscles and raise the legs from the floor.
  • Keep the legs together and actively lengthening.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly lower.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while raising the legs.
  • Exhale to lower the legs.

Awareness

  • The lower back, abdomen and heart.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Swadhisthana chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Back conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to relieve backache.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive system.
  • Activates the reproductive system.

Practice note

  • Place a blanket under the hips for extra padding.

Progression

  • The breath can be retain in while raising the legs and holding the position then exhaled while lowering.

Half Locust pose

Ardha ShalabhasanaVariation

  • Begin in Reversed Corpse Pose (Advasana)
  • Rest the chin on the floor.
  • Raise the right arm and left leg simultaneously.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then lower the leg, head and arm to the floor.
  • Repeat the same movement to the other side by lifting the left arm and right leg.
  • Practice up to 10 alternating repetitions.

Breathing

  • Inhale while raising the leg and arm.
  • Exhale while lowering them.

Awareness

  • The diagonal stretch.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Swadhisthana chakra.

Contraindications

  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to remove backache.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive and reproductive system.
  • Improves posture.
  • Promotes circulation in the back region and toning of the spinal nerves.

Practice note

  • Stretch the lifted leg backwards and stretch the raised arm forward to increase the diagonal stretch.

Snake pose

Sarpasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the legs straight and the feet together.
  • Interlock the fingers behind the body and place the hands on top of the buttocks.
  • Rest the chin on the floor.
  • Using the back muscles raise the head, neck, shoulders and chest from the floor.
  • Push the hands behind the body to increase the lift.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together and gaze forward.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly lower the body to the floor.
  • Release the hands and turn the head to one side. Relax.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale to prepare the body.
  • Retain the breath while raising and hold the position.
  • Exhale to lowering the body down.

Awareness

  • The contraction of the spinal muscles and arms.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Anahata chakra.

Contraindications

  • Heart conditions.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.
  • Hernia.

Benefits

  • Helps to remove backache.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive and reproductive system.
  • Improves posture.
  • Assists depression.

Twisting cobra

Tiryaka bhujangasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the legs separated and the feet shoulder width apart.
  • Tuck the toes under to come onto the balls of the feet.
  • Place the palms of the hands on the floor underneath the shoulders and have the fingers pointing forward.
  • Tuck the elbows in close to the body.
  • Rest the forehead on the floor and close the eyes. Relax.
  • Using the back muscles first, slowly raise the head, neck and then the shoulders from the floor.
  • Keep the pubic bone on the floor and use the arm muscles to lift the torso upwards.
  • Twist the head and upper torso to look over the left shoulder and gaze towards the right heel.
  • Hold for a few seconds then return to the centre and twist to the right side.
  • Hold for a few seconds then return to centre and lower the body to the floor.
  • Practice up to 5 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while raising the torso.
  • Exhale while twisting to the side.
  • Inhale to centre.
  • Exhale while lowering the torso.

Awareness

  • The diagonal stretch in the abdomen.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Swadhisthana chakra.

Contraindications

  • Hernia.
  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.

Benefits

  • Helps to remove backache.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive system.
  • Activates the reproductive system.

Practice Note

  • Engage the back muscles and use them to raise the head, neck and shoulders off the floor, then employ the arm muscles to raise the chest and torso.

Cobra pose

Bhujangasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the legs straight and the feet together.
  • Place the palms of the hands on the floor underneath the shoulders with the fingers pointing forward.
  • Tuck the elbows in close to the body.
  • Rest the forehead on the floor and close the eyes. Relax.
  • Using the back muscles first, slowly raise the head, neck and then the shoulders from the floor.
  • Keep the pubic bone on the floor and use the arm muscles to lift the torso upwards.
  • Lengthen and stretch the spine into a backwards curve and direct the gaze up.
  • Hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release by bending the elbows, lowering the navel, chest, shoulders and finally the forehead to the floor.
  • Practice up to 10 rounds.

Breathing

  • Inhale while raising the torso.
  • Breath normally in the final position.
  • Exhale while lowering the torso.

Awareness

  • The stretch in the throat and abdomen.
  • Smoothness and systematic arching of the spine.
  • Synchronizing the movement with the breath.
  • Swadhisthana chakra.

Contraindications

  • Hernia.
  • Back conditions.
  • Neck conditions.

Benefits

  • Helps to remove backache.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Stimulates the digestive system.
  • Activates the reproductive system.

Practice Note

  • Engage the back muscles and use them to raise the head, neck and shoulders off the floor, then employ the arm muscles to raise the chest and torso.

Spinx or Easy cobra pose

Saral Bhujangasana

  • Lie on the stomach with the legs straight and the feet together.
  • Place the palms of the hands on the floor shoulder width apart, in line with the forehead.
  • Slowly raise the head, shoulders and chest from the floor and bring the upper arms vertical.
  • Keeping the elbows, forearms and hands on the floor, hold for as long as comfortable then slowly release and lower the body down.
  • Practice up to 10 rounds.

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