Four Unconventional Backbend Preparations to Add to Your Practice and Teaching

Why should you read my advice on backbend preparations? Simple: because my backbends are average at best. This means that, A) my backbends are probably similar to yours, and, B) since backbends don’t come easily for my body, I’ve been struggling to figure out effective ways to deal with these #@#% poses for more than two decades.

Related: Andrea and Jason Share Their “Easy” & “Hard” Poses

Below, you’ll find four of my favorite uncommon backbend preparations. If you’ve done your homework, you know that common backbend preparations include hip flexor and quad opening, posterior hip strengthening, and shoulder opening. In addition to these staples, here are my favorite four overlooked preparations:

4 Unconventional Backbend Preparations

TARGET YOUR TIGHT SPOTS WITH LOW LEVEL INTENSITY

Supine Pose with Roller | Jason Crandell Yoga

This concept is simple: After doing all of your standard backbend preparations, spend additional time focusing on the parts of your body that need more support. After all, it’s unlikely that your entire body needs the exact same amount of preparation. I always spend extra time opening my hip-flexors and upper-back. When you do this, be mild and resist the temptation to be heavy handed. Use a roller, blanket, or chair–or any other prop–that helps your tightest spots release. Remember to take your time and be patient with yourself.

LENGTHEN YOUR SIDE BODY–ESPECIALLY YOUR LATS

Side Stretch | Jason Crandell Yoga

Opening your side body, especially your lats, is the most overlooked unconventional preparation for backbending. Why? Your lats have several functions, including pulling your arms down and toward your body. Tight lats inhibit the shoulders from moving into full-flexion (the action of reaching the arms overhead). This means that creating more length or flexibility will help you reach your arms overhead more easily. This preparation is less important for backbends where you reach your arms behind your body like Bow, Bridge, and Camel Pose. But, for backbends where you reach your arms overhead like Upward Facing Bow, lengthening the lats with side bends can make a significant difference.

One quick note: To target your lats more specifically in a side bend like the one photographed above, focus on bending your top elbow toward the ceiling. This will help you target the stretch opening where it matters most.

FOCUS ON EXPANDING THE CIRCLE, NOT SHRINKING IT:

Low Lunge Backbend with Yoga Strap | Jason Crandell Yoga

This is a concept that I use all the time, especially in more challenging backbends like the Pigeon Pose II pictured in the photograph. The concept is to make a larger circle, not a smaller one. Here’s the deal: It seems like everyone—especially on social media—is hellbent on bringing their hands and feet closer together in backbends—thus, making a “smaller circle.” In the case of Pigeon II, this means bringing the hands further down the belt toward the feet. That’s fine when it’s your final, deepest version of the backbend — but not when you’re doing your preparation! First, you want to do a few preparatory rounds of the same posture where you don’t go to your absolute edge. When you’re there, allow your body some time to breath and settle into the shape without applying maximum stress.

So, here are the takeaways:

1) Do multiple rounds of the same posture, especially when it’s a harder posture. Strangely, we only seem to do this for Urdhva Dhanurasana (or Full Wheel).

2) In these rounds, do not take your hands and feet as close together as they’ll go in the final round. Keep the circle you’re making a little bigger for a little longer. Let your body adapt and settle.

Finally, consider that this bigger circle—which provides you more space and comfort—may just be as valuable as a smaller circle that gives you less.

OPENING THE HEART IS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE:

Seated Garudasana Eagle Pose Arms | Jason Crandell Yoga
Associating backbending with “heart-opening” obscures one key point: your heart, whether you’re talking about the literal organ or referring to your emotional landscape, is multi-dimensional. Physically “opening the heart” almost exclusively refers to releasing tension in front of the heart region. But, this region is 3-dimensional, so it’s equally important to open the sides and the back of the heart—especially when you’re preparing for backbends.

On the surface, opening the back of the heart to prepare for backbends seems counterintuitive. But, lengthening the muscles between your shoulder blades is one of the most overlooked and effective preparations that you can give your body. Yes, you should still focus on opening the front of your chest when prepping for backbends, but don’t overlook the unconventional process of releasing your upper back.

Here’s why: when you reach your arms overhead in backbends, your shoulders blades need to laterally rotate. This means that your shoulder blades need to spread apart and raise (slightly). If the muscles that line the space between your shoulder blades are restricted, they won’t be able to move sufficiently. When the shoulder blades are restricted, you’ll have less flexion in your shoulders (the movement of the arms overhead) and your backbends will be stifled.

In addition to opening the front of your shoulders and chest, incorporate counterintuitive shoulder openers like Garudasana arms (pictured here) in your backbend preparations. Mobilizing your shoulder blades to laterally rotate will complement all the more common shoulder and heart openers that you may also be doing. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

 

20 Comments

  1. Good

    Reply
  2. I’m a yoga teacher from İstanbul. I practice with you on yogaglo and navigate through your website whenever I have time. I also love Andrea’s podcasts. I want to thank you both for the great content you have been sharing with us. I believe this is true yoga

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! I’m glad that these resources and Andrea’s podcasts are valuable to you!

      Reply
  3. Thanks Jason. You talk about lateral or upward rotation of that shoulders as a meaning of preparing for backbends. Are not poses that protract the shoulder blades effective too (ie creating space as the shoulder blades move away from each other)? Even plank for example could be effective, or parsvakonasana too.

    I’ve enjoyed introducing garudasana into my shoulder focussed sequences. Thank you for the tip. I also your videos on Glo.

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    • Thanks for the question, Scott. Protraction is part of lateral rotation. For the scapulae to rotate laterally, they also need to protract. So, yes, definitely.

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  4. Hi Jason, thanks for this article, love the four extra tips, particularly that side bend. I got my love of anatomy from the yoga journal anatomy pages, Judith Lassiter days, and I so appreciate the generosity of your teaching and how you share your knowledge of movement and the body. I come from an Iyengar background and your Glo classes are the closest I go to vinyasa! Thanks to andrea too for yogaland, love it. Come and teach in the highlands of Scotland!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Hazel!

      Reply
  5. Thank you Jason . I am a yoga teacher in Hastings, UK. Invaluable and inspirational information that I cant wait try on my own body and impart to my yoga students.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Nina. Thanks for passing this along to your students.

      Reply
  6. Very helpful

    Reply
    • Thanks, Koni!

      Reply
  7. Many thanks for always sharing with generosity! <3

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jime!

      Reply
  8. All smart stuff here.

    Reply
    • Agreed! Thanks!

      Reply
  9. Hi Jason, I met you in San Diego at YJ Conference. I have followed you ever since. I teach yoga in LA and find this is so relevant. I have the same struggles as you. I continue to prepare and work towards those difficult poses. I will never forget the feeling the first time I got into Upward Facing Bow. What a great article, thank you for writing and sharing. I have focused teaching about the hip flexor for years. I am always appreciative relevant articles and information. Keep sharing please!

    With Gratitude,
    Carlye

    Reply
    • Thanks, Carlye!

      Reply
  10. Many thanks, really helpful to know these preparations. Thank you for the effert on preparing this article. Love

    Reply
    • You’re welcome!

      Reply

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