Bridge, camel and bow postures

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For a long time, one of my least favorite postures was Dhanurasana (Bow Posture). I have my shoulders and hip flexors tight, and it seemed almost impossible to move my body as my posture demands.

What I learned later was that what made Bow Pose very difficult for me was being prone. Everything changed when I discovered that I could practice the same way in positions that were less difficult for my body: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Position) and Ustrasana (Camel Position). If you look at these three positions lined up side by side (as we did earlier), it shows their similarities. Bridge Pose is Bow Pose on his back. Camel Pose is a kneeling posture.

It is your relationship with gravity, not the actual form, that changes. In Bow Pose, you’re fighting gravity. At Camel Pose, you’re working on that. And in Bridge Pose, even if you resist gravity, you can squeeze your feet and use the strength of your legs to shape. Once I saw the relationship, I was able to use my muscular memory of these other postures, along with practice and consistency, to make Bow Pose more accessible.

Start with Bridge Pose, which is the simplest and probably the most practiced of the three forms because of how it is available to most bodies and the low risk of injury. From there, as you stretch your shoulders and hip flexors and learn to shape without collapsing in your lower back, you can move forward in camel and bow positions. Keep in mind that the key to protecting your back in back push-ups is to use your legs and buttocks as much as possible. This is important! If you have sore legs after bending back, it means you are doing it right. If you have pain in your lower back, it means that your legs have not worked hard enough.

See also: 5 compatible postures to increase Dhanurasana strength

(Photo: Getty Images)

How: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Make sure your feet are spaced apart at your hips and your heels are directly below your knees. Move your arms to your sides and push your shoulder blades up your back. Take a deep breath and on exhalation press hard on your heels and lift your entire back body off the floor. Pass your shoulders even further below you and intertwine your fingers or reach your ankles with your hands. If someone looked down on you, they couldn’t see your arms because they were under your body.

Inhale and exhale and keep pressing down on the top of your arms to lift your chest. Press your feet down to lift your hips higher. Your legs will want to come out and extend more than your hip distance; to counteract this, move your inner thighs toward the floor and place more weight on the inner edges of your feet. Keep your legs parallel to each other to avoid compressing the sacrum and lower back. Stay here for 5 long breaths.

Get out of position: On the next exhalation, release your intertwined hands and slowly lower your body. Try to land exactly where you started instead of letting your weight move towards your legs. Repeat this position a few times.

Variations: If your shoulders are strong and tight, instead of clasping your hands, grab the sides of the rug, turn your arms outward so that your biceps are facing the ceiling, and your triceps are against the floor. When your arms are wider this way, you have more room to stand up and move your shoulder blades toward each other.

If you are flexible and can keep your knees above your heels, try bringing your hands close to your feet and see if you can put your palms under your soles and press down to lift your hips higher. Bridge Pose with your hands under your feet is exactly like Camel Pose.

(Photo: Getty Images)

How: Start in Vajrasana (Lightning Position) with your knees and shins on the floor and sitting on your heels. Get up on your knees and put your hands on your hips. Like Bridge Pose, keep your feet and thighs parallel to each other and at hip distance. Like Bridge Pose, extend your arms behind you and clasp your hands. On the next inhalation, press down on the top of your feet and shins and keep your hips above your knees, look up at the ceiling, and stretch your front of your body. The front body goes up and the back goes down. In other words, you are lifting from the pubic bone to the navel to the sternum. Be sure to move the meat from the buttocks down to protect the lower back.

On exhalation, stretch your arms back and forth. This will probably feel counterintuitive because the hands will want to go down to find the feet. Once you have raised as much as you can, extend your hands to your feet and place your palms on the soles. Inhale and exhale, continuing to lift your front body up. If you manage to put the heels of your hands above the heels of your feet, you will find that you have more strength to press on your hands to make your chest rise more. Once your chest is fully open, if you feel comfortable, let your head tilt back. Continue working on the posture and breathe gently while staying here for 3 or 4 breaths.

Get out of position: Pause and move your attention to the one in contact with the carpet. Press your shins and toes down and use the strength of your legs and buttocks to return to your knees. Slowly raise your head last. Sit on your heels and breathe. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Variation: If you have tight shoulders and can’t put your hands behind your back, grab a yoga strap or belt. The loop should be at least as wide as the front of the shoulders. Grab the belt behind you and run your hands through it until the belt is at your wrists. As you did on the bridge, turn your arms upside down so that your palms are facing the sides of the room. Tighten to the belt.

(Photo: Getty Images)

How: Lie on your back with your body on the floor. Your legs (like Bridge and Camel Poses) are spaced apart and parallel at a hip distance. Bend your elbows in front of you and place your head down on the top of your hands. Stretch your legs back as far as you can. Press down on the top of your feet and lift your knees. Notice how these actions cause the coccyx to move toward the floor and the abdomen to rise away from the floor. Breathing gently and evenly, lift your head and return your arms behind you. If possible, interlace your fingers and raise your arms up and back. Breathe. When your body gives you the green light, bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Stretch your arms back behind you and hold the front of your ankles (it’s less difficult to hold the top of your feet). Inhale and on your next exhalation, press your feet firmly into your hands and watch as this lifts the front of your body. If you lean forward and let your chest drop, your legs will rise higher. If you press your feet harder into your hands, your chest will go higher. Both are correct. In the classic version of posture, the shoulders and feet are in the same line. Breathe gently and evenly for 3 or 4 breaths.

Get out of position: Resist the temptation and get out of the position quickly. Instead, try to let go of both feet at the same time. Instead of collapsing out of position, try to stay upright for a moment with your hands at your feet and feel the back of your legs work. Slowly move your legs down to the floor behind you, straight and apart with your hips. Bring your arms back in front of you and bend your elbows again and put your hands under your forehead and pause and recover. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

After the bow position, just for fun, get back on your back and repeat the bridge position, taking the variation indicated above with your hands closer to your feet.

See also: How to make backbends more enjoyable

About our collaborator

Jenny Aurthur began practicing YogaWorks in Santa Monica in the early 1990’s. She left her overwhelming job in the music industry after 200 hours of yoga teacher training. YogaWorks moved Jenny to New York City, where she taught, led teacher training, and was a teacher tutor. He currently teaches privately in person and online.

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