Teacher's Notebook - Backbends: How to Prop
Skila Ramirez offers some unusual ways in which to use props to help students engage their core, fire up their adductors, and open up their mid back (the thoracic spine) without causing stress or undue strain on their lower backs.
By strengthening the core and lower back extensors, and stretching your chest and shoulders, Cobra Pose offers good preparation for deeper backbends. Place a bolster (or two trifolded blankets) vertically on your mat. Come to a Kneeling Plank with thoracic extension. With a block between your legs to encourage inner thigh engagement and pelvic floor stability, move into a Baby Cobra pose. Make sure that the bolster supports you from the top of your thighs to your chest, so you can feel your core and back muscles engaging. Lift the sternum and lengthen up through the crown of your head.
Place two blocks on your mat, one in front of the other, so that they cover the area from your pubic bone to your navel. This will help stabilize the lumbar spine so that you can isolate the bend in the mid- to upper back instead. Keep the elbows in by the ribs and move into Sphinx with elbows under the shoulders. Alternatively, you can extend your hands and arms out towards the front of the mat for a more Cobra expression. Want to go a little deeper? If your back allows, bring your hands in closer, possibly under the shoulders, and move into a supported Upward-Facing Dog expression, keeping the knees bent. If you feel any pressure on your lower back, place a bolster under your ankles to encourage shortening of the hamstrings and release the low back.
The most common tendency when doing Camel Pose is to scrunch the lower back. To avoid that, you will need to engage the core, spin the inner thighs back and root the tailbone down. Placing a block between your thighs (just above the knee) will stabilize the pelvic floor and lower back. Leaning into a block positioned lengthwise at the wall will encourage core engagement. (Just make sure the block covers the length from your pubic bone to your navel.) To encourage the mid back to extend and open, place the hands on blocks and gently press down.
Model: Megan Ramirez
College Student & Interior Designer