September 24, 2021

Want to Backbend in the Hot Season? Just Add Blocks!

kapotasana hands over head renee choi

kapotasana hands over head renee choi 1

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Have you ever heard the expression “like increases like”? This is true in yoga, as well. For example, a heat-building yoga sequence paired with warm summer weather could make for a practice that is almost too hot to handle if you’re not careful.

So how do we find a more advanced backbending practice in the warmer seasons without increasing excess heat in the body? By avoiding the biggest heat-trapping postures—mainly prone or “belly down” positions that put pressure on the belly and solar plexus, activating our pitta fire and locking in heat—and by backbending smarter, with the use of blocks.

Blocks not offer alignment feedback and support in areas where we might get stuck in a prop-less practice, they also can help you build strength and ease you into more challenging postures. Here, we look at several block-friendly variations of four backbending postures that are safe for pitta season.

See also: Unlock Your Backbends With Yoga Blocks

Overall pose benefits:
Stretches abdomen, chest, and lunges
Strengthens arms, wrists, legs, and spine
Increases energy by stimulating thyroid and adrenals
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 1: Blocks under hands
How to:

Start by lying on your back with your head between two blocks running lengthwise on the mat; blocks should be right above the shoulders. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the mat, hip-width distance apart; try to get your heels as close to the buttocks as possible. Bend your elbows overhead and bring the hands on top of the blocks with fingers pointing toward the shoulders. Drive your heels down into the mat and start to lift the tailbone up toward the pubic bone. Try to keep knees and feet parallel, pressing through the inner arches of the feet.

Come to the crown of the head and check in with the elbows. If they are splaying out toward the side of the room, wrap them back in so that the elbows point straight up toward the sky. Start to press more actively through the hands, straightening through the elbows and lifting the head off the mat. Shift shoulders in the direction of the hands, but don’t pass the wrists. If you feel the low back is crunching, try lifting your heels to create more space. Roll inner thighs down and soften through buttocks.

Hold and breathe for five deep breaths. To come out, gaze up toward the sky and lower to back of head, then lower torso and hips.

Block benefit:

Helps create more space in the upper back so you can straighten through arms
If you experience wrist pain, decrease the flexion of the wrists by slanting blocks against a wall.
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 2: Blocks between thighs
How to:

Start lying on your back with your feet parallel and knees toward the sky. Place a block on its narrowest width, high up between the inner thighs, and walk heels as close to buttocks as is comfortable. Bend elbows overhead and bring the hands to the mat with fingers pointing toward the shoulders. Drive your heels down into the mat and start to lift the tailbone up towards the pubic bone. Squeeze the block between the thighs and roll the block down toward the mat slightly; this will create more space in low back and allow you to soften gluteals.

Come to the crown of the head and check in to ensure elbows are as close to perpendicular with the mat as possible. Start to press more actively through the hands, straightening through the elbows and lifting the head off the mat. Shift shoulders in the direction of the hands, but don’t pass the wrists. Press through the big toe mound of the feet and keep the toes pointing straight forward.

Hold and breathe for five deep breaths. To come out, gaze up toward the sky and lower to back of head, then lower torso and hips.

Block benefit:

Helps create more space in the lower back by narrowing the hip points
Teaches us to engage through the inner and outer thighs and relax through the buttocks, reducing strain and tension in the lumbar spine
See also: A Safe, Core-Supported Backbending Sequence

Overall pose benefits:
Stretches throat, chest, and abdomen
Strengthens upper back
Stretches and strengthens the psoas
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 1: Block under shoulders
How to:

Start by sitting with knees bent and soles of feet on the mat in front of you. Place a block behind you on its medium height with the long edge running parallel to the top of the mat. Walk your hands and forearms back until the shoulder blades are resting on top of the block; adjust the block as needed to ensure it is in the right and most comfortable position. Walk the hips forward a little if there is too much pressure on the low back. Relax the crown of the head back toward the mat, opening through the chest, rib cage, and throat. If it’s comfortable for you, extend the legs out long for a deeper stretch through the torso and hip flexors. Your arms can rest comfortably by the sides or in your favorite arm variation; depicted is arms overhead, extending the stretch down my shoulder and side bodies.

Take deep breaths into the entire upper body, softening through the muscles with every exhale.

Block benefit:

Offers support so you can find deeper relaxation in the stretch
Helps to create more extension in the thoracic spine
Helps open pectoral muscles, creating space for deeper breathing
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 2: Block under shoulders & head
How to:

Set up just like the above variation of Fish Pose, but instead place a second block on its lowest (or same height), an inch or two behind the block that goes under the shoulders. Come in the same way as before, but this time, release the back of the head on to the second block. Relax the head back on the block, slightly tilting the chin up and away from the chest, opening through the chest, rib cage, and throat. If it’s comfortable for you, extend the legs out long for a deeper stretch through the torso and hip flexors. Your arms can rest comfortably by the sides or in your favorite arm variation; depicted is arms overhead, extending the stretch down my shoulder and side bodies.

Take deep breaths into the entire upper body, softening through the muscles with every exhale.

Block benefit:

Supports the head more, lessening the extension of the neck in the backbend
Reduces any strain in the head and neck if the previous variation was too intense
Offers more opening in the throat airways to breathe more comfortably
See also: How to Exit Backbends With Grace

Overall pose benefits:
Strengthens back muscles
Stretches throat, chest, abdomen, and psoas
Stimulates adrenals, energizing
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 1: Blocks under hands
How to:

Start by standing on knees with the knees hip-width distance apart and the shins parallel to one another and the thighs perpendicular to the mat. Place blocks on their tallest height on the outsides of the ankles. Rest your palms, facing up or down, on the back of the pelvis where the buttocks and low back meet. Use your hands to press the tailbone down toward the backs of the knees as you lift your heart and sternum up toward the sky. Trace your gaze back and wrap the shoulder blades around the backs of the ribs.

Walk one hand at a time on to the blocks, while keeping thighs perpendicular to the mat. Notice if your buttocks is hardening into the low back, try to soften a little by rolling the inner thighs up and in. Option to drop your head back fully, if that’s comfortable for you. If it becomes difficult to breathe or you feel dizzy or have any cervical spine (neck) injuries, keep the back of your neck elongated and your gaze toward the tip of your nose. Soften through muscles of the throat.

To come out, walk one hand at a time to the back of the pelvis for support, draw the front of hips toward the knees and use core muscles to lift you back up, leading with the heart and lifting the head last.

Block benefit:

Brings the height of the floor up to your hands
Offers support to walk the hands back while still finding thoracic spine extension
Great step for those not yet ready to reach the heels
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 2: Block between thighs
How to:

Start by standing on knees with the knees hip-width distance apart and the shins parallel to one another and the thighs perpendicular to the mat. Place a block between the inner upper thighs, as close to the pubis as is comfortable. Squeeze the block inward slightly and up toward the pubis, encouraging a neutral pelvis and creating more space in the low back. Rest your palms, facing up or down, on the back of the pelvis where the buttocks and low back meet. Use your hands to press the tailbone down toward the backs of the knees as you lift your heart and sternum up toward the sky.

Start to trace your gaze back and wrap the shoulder blades around the backs of the ribs. If you feel open enough through the front line of the body, reach for the heels without shifting the hips back behind the knees; fingers will point toward the toes. You can tuck toes so that heels are a little higher off the mat for you to reach. Notice if your buttocks is hardening into the low back, try to soften a little by rolling the block inward and up. Option to drop your head back fully, if it’s comfortable. If it becomes difficult to breathe or you feel dizzy or have any cervical spine (neck) injuries, keep the back of your neck elongated and your gaze toward the tip of your nose. Soften through muscles of the throat.

To come out, walk one hand at a time to the back of the pelvis for support, draw the front of hips toward the knees and use core muscles to lift you back up, leading with the heart and lifting the head last.

Block benefit:

Helps us to soften through the glutes and find more space in the low back
Helps us to engage through inner thighs and hamstrings
Helps us to direct the pelvis
Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)
Overall pose benefits:
Strengthens back muscles
Stretches throat, chest, backs of arms, abdomen, and psoas
Stimulates adrenals, energizing
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 1: Blocks under hands
How to:

Start by standing on your knees, like you are setting up for Camel Pose. Place two blocks behind the feet. For the lowest height, place the blocks a few inches from feet; for medium height, scoot them back 6 inches or so; and for tallest height, scoot them back around a foot behind you. You can have blocks against a wall if you want more stability.

Bring your hands in Prayer to heart center and reach overhead, following them with your gaze. Wrap your armpits in toward one another and your shoulders down the backs of the ribs. Start to reach up and back, keeping hips as close to over the knees as possible. Press the tops of the shins into mat, reach your tailbone down toward the back of the knees and lead with the sternum up as you reach your hands toward the tops of the blocks.

Hold for about five breaths, and gently come out by drawing your low front ribs down toward the hip points. The crown of your head is the last to come out of the stretch.

Block benefit:

Brings the height of the floor up
Walking the knees further away from the block, depending on the block height, allows us to find more extension through the spine as we reach up and back
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 2: Block under head (hands on knees)
How to:

Start by standing on your knees, like you are setting up for Camel Pose. Place a block on its tallest height between your two big toes. Bring hands in Prayer to heart center and reach them overhead, following them with your gaze. Wrap your armpits in toward one another and your shoulders down the backs of the ribs. Start to reach up and back, keeping the hips as close to over the knees as possible. Press the tops of your shins into the mat, reach the tailbone down toward the back of the knees, and lead with the sternum up as you descend the crown of your head on to the top of the block. Reach your hands around the fronts of the thighs, just above the knee, to create more expansion across the chest muscles.

Hold for about five breaths, and gently come out by drawing your low front ribs down toward the hip points. The crown of head is the last to come out of the stretch.

Block Benefit:

Brings the height of the floor up
Allows support for the head and neck
Photo: Renee ChoiOption 3: Block under head (arms over head)
How to:

Start by standing on your knees, like you are setting up for Camel Pose. Place a block on its highest height between your two big toes. Bring your hands in Prayer to heart center and reach them overhead, following them with your gaze. Wrap armpits in toward one another and shoulders down the backs of the ribs. Start to reach up and back, keeping the hips as close to over the knees as possible. Press the tops of your shins into the mat, reach the tailbone down toward the back of the knees, and lead with the sternum up as you descend the crown of your head on to the top of the block.

Continue to reach your arms straight back, finding a deep stretch across the side bodies, and breathe into the ribs. If it’s available and comfortable to you, you can reach your hands for the backs of the heels, keeping the elbows drawn in parallel to the distance between the hands.

Hold for about five breaths, and gently come out by drawing your low front ribs down toward the hip points. The crown of head is the last to come out of the stretch.

Block Benefit:

Block brings the height of the floor up
Block allows support for the head and neck while exploring different arm variations that prepare us for hands on the mat or grabbing the heels, forearms on the mat

See also: 

Backbends Changed My Life, And They Can Change Yours Too

Advanced Backbends Are Within Reach

12 Poses to Transform Your Backbends

About the Author 

Jenny Clise has been teaching yoga since 2012. Her classes are inspired by many schools of yoga, and her favorite style of yoga to teach is alignment based flows. She is an avid traveler, leading retreats around the world, and author of the yoga e-book BLOCKASANAS. To learn more about Jenny, her classes, or upcoming events, check out her website JennyClise.com or Instagram @jennyclise_.