Back Care Vinyasa I: Awakening the Deep Core

27 Aug

This Vinyasa is dedicated to Terri Cook of TLC Horsemanship.  She dreamed up the idea of a specialized series of workshops inspired by an intention to heal from back discomfort and gently bring balance and strength into the body.  I also offer this vinyasa in gratitude and dedication to all my beloved teachers, past, present and future.  Namaste.

Yogic_Belly_breath_variationॐ   Yogic Belly Breathing on your back with legs elevated (or seated upright).  Enjoy at least ten slow, deep breaths, gradually lengthening the duration of the inhale and exhale.  You may choose to place your hands on your belly to help guide breath into the space of the belly and low back.

2.Puraka_Recaka_Pranayamaॐ  At least ten full rounds of Puraka Pranayama to connect with the flow of energy in your body.  Deep, long, slow inhales to expand and inflate your ribcage, followed by a free exhale.  Can you keep the chest expansive as the exhale relaxes the belly?

ॐ  At least ten full rounds of Recaka Pranayama, enjoying a free, un-forced inhale followed by a long, slow, deep and complete exhale, feeling a deep experience of surrender with each out-breath.  Can you allow the exhale to get longer and slower with each passing breath?



ॐ   Awaken your psoas by keeping your belly muscles soft and sinking toward your backbone as you lift your toes.  Slowly slide one heel toward your body.  Repeat on the other side.  Practice Single Leg Heel Slides (not pictured) until you can accomplish the action on both sides easily while keeping your belly soft.

Once single leg heel slides feel effortless, you may progress to both leg Heel Slides (pictured above).  Same process as above, with both legs at the same time, keeping the belly soft and breathing fully.  Notice the gentle sense of deep engagement in your hip flexors.



ॐ  Keeping your belly relaxed, sinking your navel toward the spine without engaging, extend one leg straight, flexing your toes toward your knees.  Engage your quadriceps to keep your knee straight.  Lift up slowly on the inhale, and lower slowly down to rest or hover over the floor on the exhale.  Practice 10 repetitions of Heel Lifts on each side.

Once heel lifts feel effortless, you may choose to progress to hovering the heel a few inches above the ground for five breaths on each side (not pictured).



ॐ  Practice Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge) dynamically first, lifting hips up on the inhale and lowering back to the earth—tailbone touches last—on the exhale.  Feet are hip wide apart.  Press into your heels and keep the knees from splaying out to the sides.  Progress to lifting the hips, keeping them lifted as you lengthen the back body for three to five breaths.

Once that feels strong and you can comfortably breathe while keeping the hips up for at least ten breaths, you may progress to Bridge Heel Lifts, keeping your hips balanced and lifting one heel at a time from the earth (keep toes touching).

When heel lifts feels simple and you can keep your hips balanced, you may progress to Bridge Marches, lifting one knee at a time so your toes come off the floor.  Keep the hips balanced, and breathe fully.


9-11.Supta Matsyendrasana

ॐ  Lie on your back, flexing at the hips so your shins are parallel to the earth.  Hold this Supine Bent Knee Pose (pictured in center), relaxing the belly toward the spine, seeing how you can soften the back toward the earth so the back flattens gently.  Breathe here.  Keeping knees level and ankles together (you can also use a block between the knees), slowly lower the knees to the right, hovering above the floor, not touching the earth.  Slowly inhale the knees up to center.  Exhale to the other side for Supta Matsyendrasana.  Important in this pose: maintain alignment of the knees & ankles.  If the knees slide so one is further forward than the other, you are twisting at the sacrum (please avoid doing this).  Do not practice this posture if it causes discomfort.



ॐ  For Todd’s Roll (named after the Physical Therapist, Todd Dawes of Sedro Woolley PT, who taught it to me–thanks Todd!), begin on your back, legs outstretched.  Lift the right arm over your head so the forearm is next to the ear.  Lift the left arm up toward the sky.  Now, acting as though you are completely paralyzed from the waist down, use your arm positioning and abdominal core to lift your chin up and reach across your body, turning your head as though you are sniffing your right armpit.  Lead with the face and arm to roll over.

This exercise looks far easier than it is (when done correctly)!  It may take months to be able to roll completely without the use of your legs.  Practicing—even if you cannot roll completely—is still beneficial, as you are awakening the deep core stabilizing muscles required to do this work.  Be patient with your body; treat it as a newborn baby just learning how to roll over (your neurons are learning this movement all over again; it takes practice).  Can you smile while you roll?



ॐ  Bhujangasana is a beautiful way to strengthen the core—front and back.  Forehead (or chin) starts on the earth; step the feet hip-wide apart.  Keep the quadriceps engaged and pubic bone pressing into the earth.  Shoulders back and down as you inhale and lift the heart forward.  Keep the gaze at the earth, long back of the neck.  Inhale to lift; exhale to lower.

Eventually, practice breathing fully as you stay lifted for five to ten breaths.  You can then progress to lifting the palms off the floor, keeping shoulders away from your ears and tailbone moving toward your heels as you strengthen your back and abdominal core.



Bhujangasana Variation begins with your forehead (or chin) on the earth, palms at your sides facing the sky.  Same lower body setup as Bhujangasana.  Inhale, lift the palms off the floor, keeping the arms extended.  Exhale keep the palms lifted and reemphasize rooting the pubis.  Inhale, lift the palms higher, roll your shoulders back and away from the ears and reach back toward the heels to lift the shoulders and chest. Keep the gaze at the earth ahead of you.  Exhale lower.  Repeat, and you may eventually progress to holding the lift for up to ten breaths.



ॐ  Begin in neutral spine, hands shoulder wide apart with fingers spread, pointer fingers parallel.  Knees are hip-wide apart (rest on a folded blanket for support).  Inhale, lower the shoulders away from your ears and shine your heart forward.  De-emphasize the low back arch and focus on extending the area of the upper back, broadening your heart with breath for Bitilasana (cow).  Exhale, curl the tailbone under, lift your belly button toward the sky, emphasizing the tuck of the tail; allow the crown of the head to lower, gazing at your belly button for Marjariasana (cat).  Find length in the low back here; de-emphasize the upper back arch (most of us are imbalanced already in this way).  Inhale for Bitilasana and exhale for Marjariasana dynamically for at least ten breaths, lingering in either expression of the pose to explore depth and space.



ॐ  Beginning in neutral spine (as above), inhale one leg straight behind you, drawing your toes toward your knee and extending through the heel.  Draw the inner thigh up toward the sky.  Exhale to lower the knee to the ground.  Breathe, alternating between each leg.  Transition to the arms: inhale, lift the arm level to the earth, thumb pointing up toward the sky.  Keep the elbow straight and plug the shoulder into the socket.  Exhale, lower the arm to the earth.  Alternate, lifting the arm up on the inhale, releasing down on the exhale.  When legs and arms feel strong, try Bird Dog (pictured), lifting the right arm and left leg at the same time on the inhale, exhale to lower down.

Progress by lifting opposite arm/leg and holding Bird Dog for 3-5 breaths.  Keep the spine neutral, drawing your tailbone toward the extended heel and lifting the navel toward spine.



ॐ  From hands and knees, step one foot forward.  See that the knee does not move beyond the ankle as you lower both hips.  Draw the tailbone toward the earth and square your hips with a “scissoring” action, energetically drawing your knees toward each other.  Anjaneyasana is beneficial to practice with hands on hips.  When you feel balanced, inhale to lift the arms parallel to the earth, exhale plug the shoulders back into their sockets.  Keeping your tailbone descending to inhale the arms overhead.  Option: cactus arms.



ॐ  Begin seated in the center of a chair for Navasana.  Inhale, lift the chest and lengthen the tailbone into the chair.  Exhale to draw your navel gently toward your spine as you lower back toward the back of the chair without touching it.  Breathe here, continuing to engage the belly gently to support the spine.  Inhale to return to neutral.


Eventually, working toward sitting on the floor with knees bent for this posture.


21.Savasana_Low_Back_Reliefॐ  Savasana modification with the legs elevated on a chair.  Settle in, make any modifications so that you can surrender completely here.  Watch the activity of the mind, the breath, as an observer, for at least ten to fifteen minutes to fully absorb and integrate your practice.  Roll to one side and press up with the strength of your arms.

Enjoy your healing journey!  Our bodies have so much to teach us.  Listen and breathe with an open heart.

The highest potential in me honors the highest potential in you.

Here are some useful resources for more work with the deep core:

  • Yoga International article on Mula Bandha (root lock).
  • Here is a link to a poster delineating the levels of the spine as they correlate to the chakra system in yoga.  You may find it useful to investigate some possible underlying beliefs or emotions associated with the different levels of the spine.
  • Tom Nagel gives an accessible explanation of the psoas muscles as they relate to horseback riding.  Even if you are not a rider you can benefit from the way he teaches and writes about the psoas.  You’ll find more on his website.
  • If you are looking for a DVD to practice along with at home, I recommend Elsie Browning Miller’s Yoga for Scoliosis.  Even if you don’t have scoliosis, her cueing and postures are appropriate for anyone who is interested in caring for the back with asana.
  • I also like Diane Lee’s–a physical therapist in Canada– step-by-step cues to awaken the Transversus Abdominus, Multifidi, and Pelvic Floor.
  • Finally, for meditation instruction, I would recommend Shinzen Young’s Break Through Pain.  You can download a digital version from Soulds True.  He instructs a number of meditation practices that will transform how you respond to pain.

3 Responses to “Back Care Vinyasa I: Awakening the Deep Core”

  1. ddominikwickles August 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Thank you so much for the poster of the spine and chakra system! Very interesting.


  2. Jessie August 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    As folks who attended the Back Care Yoga Workshop this week may notice, there are a few postures in this sequence that we did not quite get to in class (we could have been practicing for four hours, I think!). If you have any questions about these postures, please feel free to contact me. Happy practicing!


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