Baby Backbends (Fundamentals)

Level: Fundamentals
Theme: Rolling the sacrum and tailbone towards the heels/baby back bends.

Importance of the Theme:

The spine has three curves: the lumbar curve, which curves into the body, towards the navel; the thoracic curve, which curves out of the body, away from the heart; the cervical curve, which curves from the back of the neck towards the front. Each of these curves is critical to the distribution of weight through the frame in the standing position, but often, as a result of habitual bad posture, injury or genetics, any one of these curves can become altered, either becoming a deeper curve or flattening out. This will then throw off the body's finely-tuned system of guide wires and pulleys, impeding the ability of some muscle groups to bear weight and causing others to overwork or become tight in order to compensate.

When performing a back bend, or backward extension, what happens so often if we are not vigilant, is that the lower back, the lumbar curve, takes the brunt of the pose and we feel crunched down there. There are two major factors that can contribute to the this. The first is mobility of the upper back. The thoracic vertebrae are smaller and would, therefore, be more mobile if it were not for the rib cage, which can have the effect of binding up the middle and upper back, especially if the muscles there are stiff and lack tone. The second is length or shortness in the front of the thigh and in the hip flexors. Tight quadriceps and a tight psoas (the major hip flexor which attaches to the lower back and to the inner thigh) will pull on the lower back, increasing the tendency for the lumbar curve to deepen and the vertebrae and muscles to compress.

Body Actions:

The primary body action that we will be working in this practice involves the tailbone and the sacrum. By strongly rolling the tailbone and sacrum towards the heels and away from the lower back we will be tilting the pelvis so that the lower back elongates and broadens, relieving compression.

To briefly access this action, lie on the floor with the legs together. Observe the lower back and the pelvis. Observe the curvature of the lower back. Is it close to the floor, or completely up? Observe which part of the buttocks and pelvis are in contact with the floor. Is it the upper part, closer to the lower back, or the lower, closer to the thighs? Now, roll the tailbone towards the heels and observe how the body changes. You will find that the pelvis tilts so that it is more the upper part that rests on the floor. You will also find that the lower back drops towards the floor and broadens.

Even though this action will tend to become less clear as the poses progress and intensify, it is important to keep in the forefront of your awareness.

The Practice:

In this practice we will begin with two restorative poses to allow the muscles of the trunk, front and back, to soften and lengthen. We will then create freedom in the front of the thigh with lunges and Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I) to take some of the pressure off the lower back. From there we will move through a progressive sequence of backward extensions, often referred to as the "Baby Backbends".

Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of the sequence.

The Sequence:

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
Lunge (back knee down)
Lunge (back leg straight)
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Lunge (back leg straight)
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Thigh Stretch at wall
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I) - hands on hips
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)
Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) x2
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) x2
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose) x2
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) x2
Parshva Dhanurasana (Side Bow Pose)
Ushtrasana (Camel Pose) x2
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
Adho Mukha Vajrasana (Downward Facing Thunderbolt Pose)
Parshva Bharadwajasana (Side Bharadwaja's Pose) - over a bolster
Viparita Karani (Inverted Action Pose)
Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of the sequence.