Whenever working on backbending/heart opening I like to begin with some gentler backbends as a warm up. Stay in each pose for a few breaths, but only as long as is comfortable for you and while you can breathe easily. Backbends can be really intense so go at your own pace and modify as needed!
Begin facedown on the mat, with your hands by your ribcage and shoulders rolled back and down. Squeeze the glutes and press into your hands while lifting the upper body for cobra. Lower back down after several breaths. Reach your arms behind you and clasp the hands together. Lift the upper body and legs off the ground while reaching the arms back for locust pose. Do your best to keep your legs together. Lower down to the mat after several breaths. Next, bend both legs at the knees and reach your arms back, grabbing the ankles. Lift the chest up and ‘kick’ the legs back for bow pose. Feel free to rock back and forth if that feels good for you. Lower back down to the mat after several breaths in bow and come up onto your knees for camel pose. Keep your knees hip width distance apart and place your hands on your lower back as you push your chest forward and move into camel. Keep the hips stacked over the knees and reach back for your heels if that feels good. Focus on staying extended through the spine in this pose and not ‘dumping’ into your lower back (ouch!). Stay here for a few breaths and slowly return to an upright position. Rest in child’s pose to counteract the backbending you just went through!
Begin on your knees with your legs hip-width distance apart. Bring your hands to your lower back to help facilitate the backbend. Instead of putting a lot of emphasis on the ‘backbending’ aspect, think about keeping your chest lifted and pushing forwards as you begin to bend back. Keep your hips stacked over your knees and feel free to reach your hands towards your heels if that’s comfortable for you. Only go as far as is comfortable and you’re able to keep steady breath! Stay for a few breaths and come back to an upright position. Rest in child’s pose to counter the intense backbend!
Begin lying facedown on the mat. Bend the legs at the knees and reach your arms back to grab your ankles. On your inhale, lift the upper body off the mat and really lift and push through the legs so just your midsection remains on the mat. Stay here for 3-5 breaths and lower back down to the mat. Bow can be a really intense pose, so make sure the spine is warmed up (cobra, locust pose, etc…) and modify by working one side at a time!
Locust is another great warm-up for deeper backbends such as bow pose. Begin lying face-down on your mat. Reach your arms back behind you and clasp your hands together. If clasping the hands is difficult, use a strap or simply reach both arms back. On your next inhale, lift the chest and legs off of the mat. Keep your legs pressed together and project the chest forward. Remember to keep reaching your arms towards your feet! Stay for a few breaths before relaxing back down to your mat.
Cobra is a great substitution for upward facing dog in sun salutations! After your chaturanga, lower completely down to the mat keeping your hands near the rib cage. Make sure your shoulders stay rolled back and down, away from your ears. Lift your upper body off of the mat and project your chest forward. I like to think of keeping everything from my belly button down on the mat.