reverse warrior for better back bend flexibility

REVERSE WARRIOR

INCREASE BACK FLEXIBILITY WITH THIS PARTICULAR ALIGNMENT

REVERSE WARRIOR

REVERSE WARRIOR: PREPARE FOR BACKBENDS

Full expansion, widespread freedom, release, and openness — this might describe what we feel as yogis when it comes to the shape of a backbend or heart-opening posture in our yoga practice. We might see ourselves floating easily into this posture and enjoying the lengthening in our front body along with the confidence and strength we embody in our upper and back body (depending on the posture).

Alternatively, we might think about pain, tension, injury, constriction, fear, limitation, even inadequacy if we can’t “achieve” the posture. These are all real experiences, thoughts, and emotions we may have when it comes to backbends. We must always consider, however, what our intent is when it comes to our practice and how we can still find enjoyment and expansion within our bodies, hearts, and mind.

Backbends are also referred to as heart openers because they are associated with doing just that: opening your heart from what may be closed off, such as buried energy and/or emotions like fear, mistrust, sadness, or frustration and anger. We may go to backbends in our practice to shift this energy, to release it. Through this idea, we can create more space between ourselves and our pain. If we can’t make these shapes with our bodies for various reasons, do we not have the ability to shift these energies? The answer: Of course we do.

online yoga immersion for the spine

SPINAL AWAKENING

November 2021 Immersion

  • Twists • side bends • forward folds • heart openers
  • Learn techniques to strengthen and mobilize your spine
  • Release back tension and discomfort
  • Twelve 75-minute classes, all levels appropriate
  • Advance your postural practice
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

$148.00 $118.00

If it’s not an injury or condition that is preventing you from creating these shapes, you can approach a backbend through preparation. (This is not to say you can’t experience release in other ways, like using pranayama to unlock freedom, but that is for another discussion.) Begin by stepping back from what you envision as the end result and looking at placing your attention on areas that focus your mind, prepare your body, and allow you to let go of outcomes.

I’ll show you how we can do this with Reverse Warrior. If we place our awareness specifically on how we execute lateral flexion with the torso in this posture, it offers solid preparation for backbends. It takes our focus into the process. We are investing “well-placed effort” in how we deconstruct the appropriate actions. We can then experience and feel more expansion, opening, freedom, and release with this “preparatory posture.”

The required flexibility in this posture is directly parallel to the flexibility required in a backbend. I’ll discuss this further. Let’s talk about this well-placed effort first.

Abhyasa and Vairagya in Our Asana Practice

In Tantra of the Yoga Sutras, Alan Finger eloquently explains the ideas of abhyasa and vairagya, “the forces of effort and surrender” [Sutras 1.12 – 1.16], in our asana practice:  

“Abhyasa means making your best effort to focus all the vritti* on one single point, whether it is an action, object, thought, or image … Vairagya is the second part of the recipe. Vairagya is the ability to let go of any desire for the fruits of our efforts to focus the mind. This allows our consciousness to take action in the world without attachment.”

*Vritti is the Sanskrit word for all the images, thoughts, emotions, reactions, and belief patterns that are the activity of the mind.

Finger, Alan. Tantra of the Yoga Sutras Pg.22 – 27 )

With this understanding of abhyasa, we can place our attention on how we execute Reverse Warrior for better preparation for heart openers.

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Required Flexibility For Backbends

Wheel Pose (Urdva Dhanurasana) and Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Just by simply looking at the shapes below, we can see the similarities.  

Both of these postures require flexibility in the pectorals, front deltoids, abdominals, and hip flexors.

Camel pose back bend

How does this compare to Reverse Warrior?

Reverse Warrior requires lateral flexion of the spine, opening the internal and external oblique muscles because of the side bend. It requires flexibility of the latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis, and the lower fibers of the pectoralis major for greater extension of the spine.

In the video, Matt demonstrates the added “lift of the heart more forward and up.” This is in fact that well-placed effort (abhyasa). Lifting and turning the heart may seem like a small action, but it is actually how we prepare with much more intent for the backbend. Matt describes how with this action, we open the obliques, crossing the whole mid-section into the linea alba, opening up the side body muscles. Adding the turn, we stretch the rectus abdominis to provide us with greater extension of the spine. Greater extension also means more access to a particular backbend.

online yoga immersion for the spine

SPINAL AWAKENING

November 2021 Immersion

  • Twists • side bends • forward folds • heart openers
  • Learn techniques to strengthen and mobilize your spine
  • Release back tension and discomfort
  • Twelve 75-minute classes, all levels appropriate
  • Advance your postural practice
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

$148.00 $118.00

Bringing It All Together

What is our intention? We must ask ourselves this question. Is it the outcome or the experience? If we can settle and focus the mind with well-placed effort (abhyasa) at the same time as releasing expectation for the outcome (vairagya), we can let go of the mind attachments and just experience. Abhyasa and vairagya, when practiced together, help us to release, even dissolve our attachments. Is it not then arguable that in this state, we are experiencing the freedom, openness, vulnerability, and expansion we desire from backbends?

Let’s actualize this state of being in our practice as a whole. Let’s step into this in Matt’s current immersion, Spinal Awakening, where he explores movements of the spine, always through the lens of abhyasa and vairagya.

The focus in this immersion is on heart openers, twists, side bends, and forward folds.

Matt’s intention and emphasis is always about you getting to know your body in order for you to tap into your own individual highest potential. This looks like and is expressed in many different ways. Matt invites you to let go of defining yourself as a specific kind of practitioner and encourages you to delve into your own path without any burden of what the outcomes may look like.

Let’s meet with open hearts on the mat in Spinal Awakening.
It’s never too late to join in. Click here to gain lifetime access to the immersion and to yourself!

Written By Trish Curling @anioyoga

Continue Learning

Bow Pose: Where to Breathe in a Backbend

Bow Pose: Where to Breathe in a Backbend

BOW POSE—WHERE TO BREATHE  YOGA ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEBOW POSEThe Challenge of breathing in backbendsEver feel short of breath in a backbend? You aren't the only one. Where to breathe in a backbend is a popular question, and rightfully so. If you look at...

read more
side plank variations

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KING COBRA POSE  YOGA ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEKING COBRA5 Key Actions to Decompress Your Spine in King Cobra PoseNot all that glitters is gold, and without the right approach, this glorious backbend may not be a shining example of spinal health. King Cobra...

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WILD THING SHOULDER ALIGNMENT ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEShoulder AlignmentWILD THING SHOULDER ALIGNMENTWhat is the correct shoulder alignment for the pose we call Wild Thing? To answer this, we would first have to define the guidelines for "right" and "wrong."...

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DEEPER TWISTS INCREASE SPINAL MOBILITY WITH THE FIRE LINEDEEPER TWISTSDEEPER TWISTS & SPINAL MOBILITY: "FIRE LINE"Do you correlate strength with twisting postures in your yoga practice, or is it flexibility that comes to mind first?  There’s no doubt that both...

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full wheel shoulder alignment elbows in or out

FULL WHEEL POSE

STOP HUGGING THE ELBOWS IN

SHOULDER ACTIONS FOR MAXIMUM FLEXIBILITY

FULL WHEEL

SHOULDER FLEXIBILITY IN FULL WHEEL POSE

You may have noticed that Full Wheel Pose is quite challenging, and you might think the issue is your back, core, or shoulder strength. Sure, each of these plays a role, but not nearly as much as the simple technique of retracting the shoulder blades and widening the elbows. For whatever reason, there is a myth that the elbows need to be hugged in for safety. This is simply not true. Have you ever seen a weight lifter press a tremendous amount of weight above their head? If yes, then you know their elbows are not tucked in, and considering the amount of weight they are lifting, it’s pretty obvious that there is nothing wrong with this biomechanically. In my opinion, it’s not only okay to widen the elbows; it’s a much better physiological decision.

WHY DOES MY TEACHER ALWAYS SAY TO HUG THEM IN?

This cue is coming from the basic understanding that the shoulder joint is more stable when the arms are externally rotated. However, hugging the elbows in is overly stabilizing, which is why everyone struggles with mobility when the elbows are tucked in for Wheel Pose. Furthermore, if we take a closer look, hugging the elbows in will likely trigger your pectoral muscles to engage, not your rotator cuff. Rather than bore or lose you with the anatomical details, I will tell you how to find out for yourself by trying out the difference while sitting up.

CONTROLLED TEST WITH A STRAP

OLD WAY:

  1. Bring your arms in front like you’re going to do the Macarena, then bend your elbows, mimicking what most teachers have told you to do in full wheel.
  2. Loop a strap around both elbows to keep them in — this is often used in alignment-based classes.
  3. Without letting the elbows go wider than your shoulders,  raise your arms up, straightening your elbows while keeping them tucked in, and see how vertical your arms can get.

Most likely, you won’t be able to go too high up without effort. IF you are hypermobile in the shoulders, you may be able to; if Full Wheel is working the way you are doing it, then continue that way. However, if you feel pinching in your shoulders, watch the tutorial below.

NEW WAY:

  1. Widen your elbows out to the sides like you are making cactus arms.
  2. Reach your arms up to the sky like you are celebrating a victory.

You will likely notice that this felt more natural and relatively easy. That’s because it IS NATURAL to lift your arms this way. The best way to approach Full Wheel Pose for maximum flexibility in the shoulder girdle is to allow the elbows to be out.

Shoulder Revelation

The September 2021 Immersion includes a full-length class to Wild Thing Pose as well as 11 additional classes emphasizing shoulder techniques and biomechanics! In this package, you get twelve 75-minute yoga classes to help you gain maximum strength, flexibility, and range of motion of the shoulders. You will also learn how to release neck tension and reduce risk of shoulder and neck injuries.

If you want to feel better in your shoulders, this is THE immersion to practice!

SALE PRICE: $198.00 $138.00

DON’T HUG THE ELBOWS IN, AND ENJOY YOUR LOW BACK

Amazingly enough, when you allow the shoulders to move properly, you will notice that you can shift your weight into your hands and out of your feet, and this will take the pressure off of the low back! This is because the backbend will now be dispersed throughout the whole spine instead of targeted straight into one or two vertebrae in your lumbar spine (typically L4 and L5 for most people).

EASIER SAID THAN DONE?

Ok ok ok, after that demo you might visually or intellectually get it, and perhaps you want to give this a try. Doing the shoulder actions while seated is far easier than trying it upside down and on your head. This is partially because our body can propriocept (know where it is in space) much more easily when right side up, simply because that’s how we exist most of the day. But your nervous system needs to learn where your bones are and how to activate your muscles when everything is flipped upside down. This is just the way it is; the only thing you can do about it is put yourself upside down MORE OFTEN, AND watch this video repetitively to stimulate your “mirror neurons,” which allow you to mimic something more easily through repetitive viewing.

To get these shoulder actions fully integrated into your practice, sign up for the Shoulder Revelation Immersion — 12 classes designed to help you develop mastery of movement within the shoulder girdle.

Thank you for reading and watching! I look forward to sharing more with you in an upcoming training or monthly immersion!

Co-written and edited with 300-hour Chromatic teacher, Donna Morin

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Shoulder Revelation

The September 2021 Immersion includes a full-length class to Wild Thing Pose as well as 11 additional classes emphasizing shoulder techniques and biomechanics! In this package, you will get twelve 75-minute yoga classes to help you gain maximum strength, flexibility, and range of motion of the shoulders. You will also learn how to release neck tension and reduce risk of shoulder and neck injuries.

If you want to feel better in your shoulders, this is THE immersion to practice!

SALE PRICE: $198.00 $138.00

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yoga backbend techniques: 12 classes

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$128.00

Continue Learning

Bow Pose: Where to Breathe in a Backbend

Bow Pose: Where to Breathe in a Backbend

BOW POSE—WHERE TO BREATHE  YOGA ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEBOW POSEThe Challenge of breathing in backbendsEver feel short of breath in a backbend? You aren't the only one. Where to breathe in a backbend is a popular question, and rightfully so. If you look at...

read more
side plank variations

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read more
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KING COBRA POSE  YOGA ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEKING COBRA5 Key Actions to Decompress Your Spine in King Cobra PoseNot all that glitters is gold, and without the right approach, this glorious backbend may not be a shining example of spinal health. King Cobra...

read more
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WILD THING SHOULDER ALIGNMENT ANATOMY • BIOMECHANICS • TECHNIQUEShoulder AlignmentWILD THING SHOULDER ALIGNMENTWhat is the correct shoulder alignment for the pose we call Wild Thing? To answer this, we would first have to define the guidelines for "right" and "wrong."...

read more
hyperextension of the knee in pyramid pose

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KNEE HYPEREXTENSION HOW TO SOLVE HYPERMOBILITY IN PYRAMID POSEKNEE HYPEREXTENSIONKNEE HYPEREXTENSION: PROTECT YOUR KNEES IN PARSVOTTANASANA, PYRAMID POSEWhen it comes to our asana practice, more often than not, the subject of our knees is a hot topic. Typically, we’re...

read more
deeper twists and spinal mobility with the fire line

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DEEPER TWISTS INCREASE SPINAL MOBILITY WITH THE FIRE LINEDEEPER TWISTSDEEPER TWISTS & SPINAL MOBILITY: "FIRE LINE"Do you correlate strength with twisting postures in your yoga practice, or is it flexibility that comes to mind first?  There’s no doubt that both...

read more

THE FREE TECHNIQUE PACK

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