Begin by kneeling on the floor with the thighs at a right angle and the tops of the feet resting on the mat. Roll the thighs slightly inward and draw the hipbones in toward each other. Tuck the tailbone to keep the lower back and the quads long. You might even place your hands on the thighs as you tuck the tailbone to really tune in to the feeling of lengthening here. As you tuck the tailbone, make sure that the pelvis stays over the knees and doesn’t push forward.
Now place your hands on your back, with the palms at the sacrum and the fingers pointing down. Broaden across the front of the chest and shoulders and initiate the backbend by lifting the sternum up toward the ceiling. Beginners might not be able to safely drop all the way back yet, so to begin with you can stay here, lifting the chest as you let your gaze move up and maybe even up and back. The shoulder blades will naturally be drawn together a bit, but try not to squeeze them together. Refrain from hardening the muscles of the back and keep the heart open in front. You might imagine that a hook attached to your sternum is pulling you up toward the ceiling and this is what initiates the back bend. Think more of going up and over than back and down.
If you feel comfortable here, you can take the next step by reaching back asymmetrically first for one heel, then the other. A couple of modifications can make this a little bit easier. You can tuck the toes under to bring the heels a little closer to the hands, and you can also lean the thighs slightly back to more easily reach the feet. Once the hands have reached the feet, check in with the tailbone again, making sure the quads are lengthening and the lower back is not compressed. Lift the heart and breath.
Finally, for more advanced practitioners, you can drop the hands back simultaneously. Don’t rush this. If you feel anything less than 100% solid bringing back one hand at a time with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, you are better off getting into the pose asymmetrically. To come out, you can lean the thighs back slightly and reverse the process.
As with most backbends, if you have a history of back pain or hiatal hernias, proceed with extreme caution, if at all. If you are uncertain about whether or not backbends are safe for you, ask your doctor or physical therapist.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you or see you at one of my classes!