Five Steps to Rock Your Back Bends More Safely. {Video}

Via Sadie Nardini
on Feb 27, 2012
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Don’t go to Thoracic Park!

Since I travel to teach, I’m out there in your classrooms and studios a lot, and I see some common areas of misalignment that we could all do with addressing, before our spines fly out of our bodies like sticks paying “fetch.”

Thankfully, we have the study of anatomy to tell us how the body moves more effectively, and just as importantly, how it doesn’t, so no matter what style of yoga you study, you can use the following tools to increase the safety and benefits of your poses.

Now, back bends are like black licorice–mostly people either love them or hate them. These poses might be deliciously easy for you because you have a flexible lower back, or they are the bane of your existence for one of many reasons: tight quads or psoas, a lumbar spine with limited range of motion, arm weakness or something else.

Whether you could audition for Cirque du Soleil, or if you, like me, have a lumbar curve that more closely resembles a telephone pole, you can approach the heart-opening poses like Up Dog, Camel, Dancer’s Pose, Rockstar Pose, Bound-Ankle, Half-Moon, Bridge, Wheel, and others, from a more mindfully core-connected root.

This will make your poses more stable and also bring a healthier length and support to your lumbar arch. As you’re transitioning into your back bends (not once you’re already in full expression–it’s too late to fully re-align then), do the following five steps, in order, and no matter how high or low your poses have to be to accommodate your needs, you’ll be rocking them from the inside out:

1. Ground down into your foundation: Whatever’s on the floor, align it and press it down strongly.

2. Pull your top, front pelvic crests into the body and upward, as if to touch the inside of your ribs: This is the beginning of your Iliopsoas activation & will lengthen your tailbone and lower back.

3. Draw your front low back spine into the body and up: This action completes the activation of the Psoas, which shores up your spine from the front so the lumbar doesn’t over-curve and compress.

4. Keep your ribs drawing toward your spine, not jutting forward: Otherwise, you’re not doing a back-bend, you’re doing a “front-jut,” or as I call it, “going to thoracic park,” a trip which can wreak havoc on your spine, shearing pressure into your low and mid back.

5. Slide the skull back and up naturally in line with the inner body curve you created, as if you have a palm on the neck and back of your head and you’re pressing into it as it lifts your head longer: Send all the length and energy of your containment out the top of your head, not jutting the face forward nor throwing your head back and crushing the back of your neck.

Your back bends should move from root to crown through the inner body, not out in front of you. Move inside to go deeper and you’ll be amazed at how much farther you can get into these postures without pain.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta


About Sadie Nardini

Sadie Nardini, is the founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, an anatomically-optimized flow style that gives you more results and benefits for every minute spent on your yoga mat. She is a holistic anatomy geek, healthy hedonism advocate, yoga expert, author, and TV host who travels internationally bringing empowering tools to yoga teachers and students everywhere. Her new book, The 21-Day Yoga Body: A Metabolic Makeover, Life-Styling Manual to Get You Fit, Fierce and Fabulous in Just 3 Weeks! (Random House), is out now, and her TV show, Rock Your Yoga, is playing across the country on the new Veria Living Network. With Sadie, you'll sweat, laugh, learn, and come away transformed, informed, and inspired anew. Learn more at


12 Responses to “Five Steps to Rock Your Back Bends More Safely. {Video}”

  1. devacat says:

    "Rockstar pose"? What's that in Sanskrit? Good advice, but I'm curious what asana this is.

  2. Jen says:

    Great video! I'm going to use these principles in my own practice and when teaching. Thanks! 🙂

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    What I meant to type (new key board sleepy = yikes)…In camel – keep… 🙂

  4. sadieyoga says:

    Hey Tanya! Glad you like the post!

    Yes, if you can keep all the other 5 points together, then see how far forward your hips go in Camel. Fully forward over knee joints is more of a back bend so each person can adapt accordingly. Or, keep hands up higher on hips for those who want less of an arch. & I like me a toned backside, not too grippy and not totally relaxed.

    Have fun!


  5. sadieyoga says:

    It's a side plank, step top foot behind yourself, reach the free hand over the ear, chest to sky + back bend a little in the air, or more to Full Wheel. ROCK!

  6. devacat says:

    Thanks. I usually teach this from Downward Dog and call it ardha chakrasana, but I've seen many nicknames for it.

  7. jenni_rawlings says:

    Hi Sadie! Your asana tips are always the BEST, and this video might be one of my favorites! You rock, man. 🙂 I have a psoas Q for you. You mentioned that when we pull the top, front points of the pelvis in and up, this is the beginning of the iliopsoas activation. When I hear the word "activation" in relationship to a muscle, I think of the muscle as contracting. But in back bends, we aren't contracting the iliopsoas – we're lengthening it. Can you elaborate on what you mean by iliopsoas activation here and the role of the iliopsoas is in back bends in general? Thanks so much!

  8. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  9. sadieyoga says:

    Yes—GREAT question. In this case, it's actually beneficial to put a slight contraction into the iliopsoas complex even as the backbending stretches it. This is so we don't just passively release the one muscle group that can give us a prime counter-stability in the lumbar spine. This can overstretch the iliopsoas at the attachments, and continue the destabilization and inflammation at the hip joints, groins and spine that can occur when we hang into any stretch. So play the duality of letting the lumbar curve but not dump and compress, and letting the iliopsoas stretch as well as produce a slight tone to moderate the stretch and the lumbar curve. Make sense?

  10. sadieyoga says:

    Yay!! Thanks, T!


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