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
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$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

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Bow Pose: Where to Breathe in a Backbend

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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...

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Lifting The Arches of Your Feet

Are Your Arches Lifted?

Setting the foundation for standing postures - Avoid Collapsed Arches

Is your foundation trong?

Setting the foundation of any posture is arguably the most important step you can take aside from breathing of course, which you can simply consider a part of the foundation. You probably have heard me talk about the foundation of arm balances and handstands a million times, but how about standing postures? If you have practiced with me on retreat or at the Elements of Mastery, you already know the importance of what I am about to share with you. If you have not worked with me before, no problem, I am going to take you through a step-by-step approach to building a strong, solid foundation for all your standing postures.

Have you been asked to lift the arches of your foot in a class? Did you know how to do that on your own? Maybe you were told to lift your toes in order to do so, and you probably noticed a loss of connection to stability. Lifting your toes can be a great way to strengthen some of the muscles I am about to share with you, but it is literally just the beginning.

Does it really matter?

This is a great question and I wouldn’t blame you for asking because ultimately knowing the why behind anything we do gives our actions power. So why lift the arches? Consider your feet the foundation of all standing postures. Would you build your extremely expensive one-of-a-kind house on mud, or would you prefer a solid foundation you know will hold up over time? Picture it, a strong, heavy house resting on a muddy foundation, eventually part of the house would start to sink downward while other parts remained strong. The pressure would build and the weakest parts would start to break. This happens in our body, and the weakest points are typically our joints. The joints are weak because they are the place where two or more bones come together for the purpose of movement. If they were too strong, no movement would be available. Gravity is always upon us and pulling us downward. When our bones are properly aligned there is less stress on the joints. However, what if we have an imbalance at the ankle that causes our weight to fall to the inside or outside of the foot? Not only is the ankle or foot at risk but ALL of the joints that exist above it are too because they have to compensate for the new alignment. This is why you could have a pain in your neck that stems from weakness and miss-alignment at the ankle. You feel it in the neck because the neck is compensating for everything below it. This is very important to understand especially if you are a yoga teacher or in any field of physical health. Does it matter…? YES!

The Anatomy

For the purposes of this article, we will talk about two joint actions and the muscle groups that create them: Eversion and Pronation of the ankle which occurs at the subtalar joint. The subtalar joint is just below the ankle joint. The ankle joint allows for the up and down movements of plantar flexion (pointing the foot) and dorsiflexion (flexing the foot), while the subtalar joint allows the foot to rock from side to side. For the purpose of simplicity, we will refer to both of these joints as a collective –  “the ankle”.

The arch of the foot

There are multiple muscles that help to form the arch of the foot. How high someone’s arches are may be due to the structure of the foot – the bones might be shaped in a more flattened position. However, we aren’t concerned with the external look of an arched foot but rather, training the muscles to activate appropriately for our feet. Most of us can use strengthening of these muscles. The way that I found really helps is first learning how to isometrically engage the muscles of inversion and eversion at the same time which forms a “bootstrap” like scenario around the foot. One of the fibula muscles wraps from the outer shin down the outer ankle and attaches near the ball mound of the big toe – That is pretty cool! There are muscles underneath the sole of the foot that when activated in conjunction with the muscles of inversion and eversion allow us to find greater engagement and lift of our arches.

One of the best ways to integrate these actions in your practice is to repeat them throughout your yoga practices. If you are interested in greater balance, stability, and ankle awareness there are two online immersions – 12 class packages that focus heavily on the feet and ankles.

1. The July 2020 Immersion titled The Chakras & the Elements – the Earth and Water practices will provide a profound awakening to the ankles and feet and how they relate to your practice.

2. The August 2020 Immersion titled Journey To Bliss follows a similar format as of July; the first few practices target the ankles and feet. I highly recommended either or both of these immersions.

Everting

ankle strength, heal sprained ankle with yoga

Inverting

ankle strengthening for yoga
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3 Steps To Activate the Core of the Foot

  1. Press the outer edge of the food down.
  2. Maintain this action, and counter engage by pressing the big ball mounted and big toes down.
  3. Drag the big ball mound back toward the inner heel.
inversion of the ankle - arch of the feet

Step 1 - invert the ankle

While you can certainly evert the ankle first, I find for most people it is more effective to start with inverting the ankle when approaching standing postures. For clarity of the action, I am showing it in a seated position – try it seated first so you are very clear on how to invert. When in Warrior 2, press the outer edge of the front foot into the ground until your feel the muscle deep in the calf muscle activating. The ball mound and the big toe might lift when you do this – it is ok for now.

evert the ankle in warrior 2 yoga pose

Step 2: Evert the Ankle

I recommend learning everting when seated – first, pull the outer edges of the feet back, it can be helpful to press the big toe and toe mound forward. When articulating this action properly you will feel the muscles along the outer shin engage. After you are aware of the action, the next part can be challenging. In warrior 2, be sure to maintain the muscle activation of inversion and add eversion by pressing the big toe and toe mound down into the ground, while trying to roll the outer ankle in slightly. Be sure not to fall flat into the inner arch while doing so – if this happens it means you are no longer activating the muscles of inversion, so go back to step 1 and try again.

arch of the foot in warrior 2 yoga pose

Step 3: contract The Arch

While this step is optional, it can be really helpful especially for anyone that gets plantar fasciitis. The idea is to maintain steps 1 and 2 but then add an activation of the musculature along the bottom (plantar side) of the foot. The action is to try and drag the big ball mound of the foot toward the inner heel. Like inversion and eversion, this action can be quite foreign and may take a bit of time until you are able to feel the muscles contract. I really like to focus on this action in the change of seasons when I am switching between different shoes and my feet are trying to adapt to the differences.

October Livestream Yoga Classes

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12 CLASS PACK - FULL BODY AWAKENING

  • Strong focus on ankles, feet & wrists
  • Release Stress Patterns in body and mind
  • Increase Shoulder and Spinal Flexibility
  • Includes 2 hour Workshop on Full Wheel Pose
  • Strengthen Your Core
  • Learn Breathwork and Meditation Techniques
  • Connect the the 5 Layers called The Kosha's
  • 12 All Levels Live Asana Classes
  • 4 Live Guided Meditations
  • Lifetime Unlimited Access to All
  • SALE: 1 Time Payment of $118

The Results

Activating the arch of the foot can be challenging at first. Typically the hardest part is learning how to co-contract opposing muscle groups. When opposing muscle groups contract at the same time, you get lifting and stabilizing of the joints. In this case, when you activate the muscles along the inside and outside the leg, it’s like pulling up your bootstraps and stabilizing the ankle. As a wonderful result, the arch of the foot pulls up.

Integration

 To fully integrate these actions into your practice you will need repetition throughout all of your standing postures. Try it in your next class, or if you want a full workshop that incorporates these exact actions throughout, check out Hips: Rock Em and Unlock Em workshop below.

Thanks for stopping by. Leave a comment if this post has been helpful, or if you have questions or requests for future posts.

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  • 6 All Levels Yoga Practices
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THE FREE TECHNIQUE PACK

When You Subscribe You Will Get Instant Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts
  • Exclusive Blogs and Videos
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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