The Beginner Back bends
I was completely baffled about the differences (and similarities) between these three poses. In a yoga class, these three poses are often used interchangeably. But do you know the difference between the three? I know that for the longest time, I didn’t.
Sphinx, cobra and upward facing dog are all excellent poses to help build strength in our back, arms and core. Although these poses may look small but they can have a dramatic effect on your body.
Do you work on a computer all day? Are you a gardener (leaning over and planting)? Do you have small children which are you constantly leaning over with to help or play with? Then these back bends ae the perfect postures for you. They are a reminder to open our chest and lungs and allow our breathe the full capacity that it deserves.
In Sphinx you can begin to form a great foundation for your back bends. Take the time to perfect this pose so that you can maximize its benefits.
Slowly bringing your body into Sphinx.
Use the power of your breath to move your body into each step of this posture
1) Lie on your Stomach (With your body fully extended)
2) Place your arms at a 90-degree angle. Your forearms should lie on the floor with your fingers and hands resting on the floor. Your arms are extended in front of your body with your elbows resting near your waist.
3) Become aware of your core and all of its strength. Breathe.
4) Extend your legs fully, your feet flat on the floor and your toes pointed behind you. Keep your legs fully engaged and active.
5) Slowly raise your neck and head and upper chest of the floor. This is the beginning of Sphinx pose.
6) Allow for a slight arch in your upper torso (beginning your back bend)
7) Pay attention to your core, gentle scoop your lower belly away from the floor
8) Continue to breathe, enjoying the slight bend in your body.
Most students are initially exposed to cobra in a sun salutation. Beginning in sphinx will allow you to see the difference between the bend in sphinx and that in cobra. Cobra is a slightly more intense back bend, however the primary principles in sphinx (scooping the belly, active legs) are the same. The difference is in your arms.
Continuing into Cobra
Remember to breathe through each of these steps.
Cobra is a dual action pushing up with your hands (lifting your chest) while pushing down with your pelvis (engaging your core). Move your hands back beside your chest
1) Pay attention to where your hands are. You should be able to draw a vertical line between your hands and shoulders
2) In Cobra your arms take on a much more active role. Tuck your elbows close to your body and shift your weight into your hands. Pay attention to your fingers each one should be in contact with the floor (your weight evenly distributed between them).
3) Gently lift your head and upper body off the floor. Allow your chest to open and fully expand, keep your shoulders back.
4) Use the strength in your arms and fully extend them. While you do this allow your core and heart to open even further, slightly arching your back and neck.
Finish the series with Upward Facing Dog
Upward facing dog uses both the power in your arms (that cobra brought into the back bend) and the strength in your legs. In this pose, your entire body becomes a lot more active. The goal at the end is to have only the tips of your toes and your hands touching the ground with the rest your body beautifully raised into a small back bend.
In upward facing dog, your hands are directly beneath your shoulders allowing for a fully open chest.
1) Move your hands back so that they are parallel with your shoulders
2) Lift your body, opening your chest and bending your back. At the same time, allow your legs to slightly raise of the floor.
3) Breathe into the pose, moving your shoulders down and back while continuing to open your chest.
4) Keep your arms and legs firm, your chest open and your head and neck either gazing forward or slightly bent back.
6) Shift into child’s pose and relax.
In order to appreciate the uniqueness between these three poses, work through each of them slowly. Pay attention to how your body feels and try to replicate both the posture and the feeling in your sun salutations.