There is nothing like a delicious, gradual crescendo backbend sequence to stretch out your abdomen, hips, and chest, especially if you are posted at a desk all day.
The best way to induce that slow opening that will safely deepen your backbends and open your chest and shoulders is with a Vinyasa flow centered around spinal health.
Always ignite your core with some Boat Pose or a long Plank hold before you enter back bends, and release each with a soft Forward Fold or twist to relax the muscles.
Here is a backbend yoga sequence for beginners that will gradually open your spine, chest, abdomen, frontal hips, and thighs into that yummy deep backbend that you are craving.
1. Roar From The Mountain Top
This is a great way to release anything you might be holding in your body or mind, and warm up for a little back bending.
Safe backbends come from leaning forward and opening the frontal plane of your body more then simply bending backwards at the spine, so consider how much you hunch forward during the day and forgive your body for taking it’s time undoing that.
Start standing in Extended Mountain Pose. With a loud Lion's Breath exhale, push your hips forward and cactus your arms on either side of your ribs with fingers spread wide. Inhale to come back up.
Repeat this twice more, and each time pull your stomach in more and press your hips further forward. Pause in Forward Fold for a mini twist to release the backbend.
2. Graduating Cobras
A succession of backbends that is superb at warming up your back and opening your chest and abdomen. Hold each variation for 2 breaths.
Begin with a Half Locust on your belly with hands and chest hovering. Then inhale to full Locust Pose with your hands and legs hovering.
Next, exhale to Sphinx Pose on your forearms, pressing your chest forward and relaxing your gluteal muscles. Inhale to Baby Cobra, coming up one third of the way and squeezing the elbows and shoulders behind you. Pause here.
On your next inhale, move through full Cobra with elbows still bent, but start to ignite your leg muscles and point your toes. Then come to High Cobra, keeping your hips on the floor and pressing your ribs forward. Pause here, and exhale.
Finally, inhale to Upward Facing Dog, hovering your legs off your mat and dropping your shoulders behind you. Rest on your belly letting your legs fall left and right for a whole minute.
3. Sunning Your Camel
This is a nice way to take Camel Pose without over-indulging your spine. During any posture listen carefully to what your back is telling you, and don’t enter something you are not warmed up for. A good measure of safety is your breath: if you are unable to breath smoothly, you need to back out.
For this variation of Camel Pose make sure your toes touch behind you when you stand on your knees, and that your belly is pulled in. Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide, or one hand on top of the other in the center of your upper back with elbows pointed up. Try to lengthen your upper arms as you lean into Camel Pose and open your thighs and hips.
Hold for 5 breaths and then release to Child's Pose. Repeat this 2 or 3 times and take it deeper each time. Making sure your hips stay over your knees.
4. Bridge Pose
A playful classic that can be varied in so many ways. Start simple, however, and be sure your feet stay parallel no matter what. Leave space between your chest and your chin and squeeze your shoulders deeply underneath you (unless you are using a block under your lower back). Hold each lift for 5-10 breaths and repeat twice.
Maybe later you add in leg and arm variations but for now this is perfect to open you up for something deeper. Pause in a Reclined Twist for 5 breaths per side when finished.
5. Bound Locust
Take Locust Pose but work on pressing your hips down rather then gaining height. Keep your gaze low to protect your neck. Hold for 5 breaths and then release and rock your hips side to side.
Now reach back to grab one leg — same side or opposite, doesn’t matter — but keep your chest and hips parallel with the top of your mat. No leaning onto one side here. Kick your foot into your hand and let your remaining hand press into the mat under it’s shoulder to push your chest up into a Cobra shape.
The remaining leg could stay grounded or hover. Stay up for 5 breaths and then repeat on the second side before swaying the lower legs side to side to release.
6. Tiger Pose
This Table Top variation opens your entire frontal body and can be done right hand to right foot or right hand to left foot, depending on how you feel. It is great prep for many deeper backbend posture like Wheel, Bound Half Moon, Candy Cane, Dancer's Pose, and some upside down work like Scorpion.
Make sure you keep kicking the foot into the hand to open your thigh and hip, keep your belly in to support your spine as it bends and lift your clavicle up without overstressing your neck by limiting your upward gaze.
Hold each side for 5 breaths, and follow with Thread The Needle to release all the postures with a gentle twist.
There it is, a basic Vinyasa backbend flow that will keep you interested, and safely allow you to open into deeper backbends when your body is ready.