Intermediate Group Class: Expanding the Rib Cage in Back Bends

Continuing on from the idea of balancing the lumbar/thoracic joint of the spine, we will be working on balancing the joints of the entire thoracic spine, including the cervical/thoracic joint, by expanding the rib cage.

Think of the rib cage as having three bands:
  • The stomach ribs: the lower ribs that wrap around the kidneys, stomach and liver and that attach to the cartilage that leads up to the bottom of the sternum.
  • The heart ribs: the middle ribs that wrap around the heart and lungs.
  • The neck ribs: the first two ribs to which the scalene muscles of the neck attach.

We are going to be expanding each rib band both from front to back and from back to front to crate space three-dimensionally. In the back bends we need to pay particular attention to the back of the rib bands to create support for the spinal extensors and to create room for the spine to move into the body as it extends.

When expanding the neck ribs, the scalene muscles contract, potentially creating hardness in the neck. Think of the neck as having a core of muscle and connective tissue that is close to the spine and a sheath that wraps around it. In each of these poses think of keeping the neck core long while softening and expanding the sheath.

In addition, when taking the back bends, think of moving the sides of the chest, where the armpits and pectorals meet, and lifting them as much as possible. In addition, think of moving the wall of connective tissue surrounding the buttocks away from the head towards the feet to create a balanced arch in the spine.

The Sequence

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Lie back over a small mat roll or a thin- and narrow-folded blanket to create a very gently arch of the back.
• 3 minutes.

Side Stretch on a chair or ledge
• Place the elbows on the chair (from a kneeling position) or ledge (from a standing position) with the arms bent and the hands together in Namaskarasana (Prayer Position).
• Hold the pose for 2 to 3 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Shirshasana Cycle:
Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
Eka Pada Shirshasana (Single Leg Head Stand)
Parivrttaikapada Shirshasana (Revolved Single Leg Head Stand) preparation only
• Bring the leg back into a split without turning.
Parivrttaikapada Shirshasana (Revolved Single Leg Head Stand) preparation only

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)

Supta Padangusthasana Cycle:
Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1) head down variation
Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1) head up variation
Supta Padangusthasana 3 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 3)
Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)
• Do the whole cycle all on one leg, then all on the other.

Sarvangasana Cycle:
Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
Salamba Sarvangasana 2 (Shoulder Stand 2)
Niralamba Sarvangasana 1 (Unsupported Shoulder Stand 1)
Niralamba Sarvangasana 2 (Unsupported Shoulder Stand 2)

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
• 3 minutes.

Chatushpadasana (Four Footed Pose)

Sarvangasana Drop-Back Cycle:
Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
Eka Pada Sarvangasana (Single Leg Shoulder Stand)
Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Single Leg Bridge Pose in Shoulder Stand)
Eka Pada Sarvangasana (Single Leg Shoulder Stand)
Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
• Use only one blanket and belt the elbows. Take care not to try and get the same lift in the back and openness in the chest in Shoulder Stand as you would on three blankets.
• Do the whole cycle on one leg and then the other.
• Repeat three to five times for both legs.

Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) over a chair

Uttanapadasana (Stretched Out Upward Facing Pose)

Setubandhasana (Bridge Lock Pose)

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
• Come into the pose from Tadasana (Mountain Pose) walking the hands down the wall, then walking them back up.
• 5 times.

Viparita Chakrasana (Inverted Wheel Pose) at the wall
• This refers to coming into and out of Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) from Hand Stand.
• Come into Hand Stand at the wall several times, each time getting a bit further away from the wall and sliding one leg and then the other down the wall until you can get the feet to the ground in Urdhva Dhanurasana. Come out of the pose each time by walking the feet back up the wall swinging the legs back overhead into Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) or Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose).

Marichyasana 3 (Marichi’s Pose 3)

Ardha Matsyendrasana 1 (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose 1)

Pashasana (Noose Pose)

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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