How many of us sit for hours a day, in front of a computer, or in our car, or on our couch, and notice that our shoulders slope forward, our chests become concave, and find it's difficult to sit up tall?
Last night at Le Nordik (a beautiful nordic spa in Chelsea, QC) I taught a chest-opening, backbend sequence, which aims to counter this. In my teacher-training, I was taught the importance of vinyasa krama - intelligent sequencing. In this, an apex position is chosen, and postures are chosen before the apex, to ensure the appropriate body parts are strong and flexible, before approaching the apex. Postures are also chosen after the apex, to balance out the body.
Last night, I chose the bow as my apex, a challenging backbend. But, as I tell all my students, it is a perfectly ok to under-achieve in yoga - each student should listen to their body, and move gently into each position.
Before this pose, I had the class do some lunges - both low and high. Arms were extended into the full expression of the pose, to allow the chest to open and the back to begin to stretch. We did Warrior 1, opening the chest and front body and back body. We did some arm stretches (eagle arms, cow arms), which opened the chest and shoulders. We did some quad stretches, allowing for greater flexibility in the legs. Salabasana and Cobra pose worked to increased the flexibility in the chest and front body and shoulders.
In the The Bow, students begin lying on their front, with the forehead to the mat. Students bend their knees, and bring their arms around, to grasp their ankles. Take a moment to feel the pelvis grounded into the floor. On the inhale, life the chest and chin off the floor. The backs of the feet press into the hands, bringing the legs off the floor. Try to keep your knees together. Students should press their shins toward the wall behind them. With each inhale, the body rises higher, until it is the navel that is pressing into the mat, rather than the pelvis. With each exhale, try to find ease and stillness in the pose. Deep breaths are important here, as you feel your front body open and your navel press into your mat with each breath. It is important to maintain a long spine, lots of space in the front and back body.
After this pose, it is important to bring the spine back into alignment. I brought my students into a child's pose, to rest and regain their breath. Downward Dog can feel delicious here. I then brought the students onto their backs, and did some slow, gentle dynamic bridges. Inhaling, they brought their hips to the sky and brought their arms over head on the mat. Exhaling, they brought their hips to the ground and brought their arms back down to their sides. After a few rounds of these, students came into apanasana, hugging their knees to their chests. Gentle lying twists gave a gentle massage to their lower backs, before coming into savasana to integrate the poses into the body, and allowing themselves to rest and release.
These backbends do open up our chests and the front of our body. Energetically, they are energizing and stimulating. They open us up to the world and all it has for us. They encourage rich, full inhalation. They build energy and strength. Physiologically, backbends stretch and release the muscles of the chest allowing circulation to flow freely to the heart and lungs. During backbends, the thymus is pressured, and then released: this stimulation can aid immune function. The nervous system is stimulated, building heat and stimulating metabolism. The abdominal muscles receive a stretch, as does the digestive system.
There are a lot of benefits to these! But one word of caution for you - because they are stimulating and energizing, it's best to do these early in the day, NOT right before bed! :)
Do you like backbends? Tell me your thoughts!