HALF MOON, BACK BEND AND HANDS TO HEEL POSE

A WARM UP FOR YOUR SPINE IN FOUR DIRECTIONS 

Our hot yoga warm-up is like no other! It's completely warms up and irrigates your spine, perfect if you are practicing first thing in the morning or after sitting and compressing your spine all day. 
Let's start! The hand grip should be tight with the palms together right down to the wrist. They can sneakily come apart during the posture but every effort you make to glue the palms together will strengthen the arms, eventually making the posture easier. Stretch up as high as you can and bend a few times from left to right making sure you feel the stretch on each side of the body. The posture is called “Half Moon” so the body should make a crescent shape!

Work on the initial alignment. Try and keep your head glued in between your raised arms rather than allowing the head to drop and causing a bent neck. Your elbows should be locked to ensure no bent arms – this can be an area that is difficult but one day you may find all of a sudden your arms are straight, Hallelujah! Never think what you are experiencing today is what you are stuck with.  Things will change with a regular practice…. and sometimes surprisingly quickly.

Make sure your toes and heels together, creating a strong base and great for balance. Bring the weight on to the heels and push the hips forward slightly to open up the hip joints, lean the upper body back a little to open up the chest and rib cage.  

Make sure your chin is away from the chest so you can breathe easily and before you start, really focus by keeping your eye fixed on one spot. Concentrate as you stretch up to the ceiling. Slowly stretch to the Right. It is much better to stretch just a couple of inches to the side and stay in that strong alignment than it is to bend over a foot and be twisted – tempting though it is when you look in the mirror! You should feel an intense stretch on the other side of the body. The side that is compressed is working on your internal organs.  

So what about the breathing?  Take a deep breath as you stretch up to the ceiling, hold it until you are in the side position and then breathe normally.  If this is not easy for you, just breathe normally throughout – but whatever you do don’t forget to breathe or you will tire quickly!

A minute does seem a long time but if you move slowly and “be” in the posture rather than just “doing” it, it will pass quick enough. Just keep your ear on the dialogue and adjust as necessary.  In the last 3 seconds or so go a little bit past the comfort zone and push more! Inhale as you come out and stretch up to the ceiling before doing the other side.

Back bends bring huge benefits both physically and emotionally: helping to alleviate back pain, by easing stress on parts of the spine that are often stuck in a chronic forward bending position. They can improve your posture, counteracting the hunching that you get from spending long periods of time bending forwards, by opening up the chest and the shoulders. This can also improve your breathing, because there is more space for your lungs.
With so much of life spent bending forward, our spines are screaming out for a backbend! 

Think about your form and alignment over the depth of the posture.  It is not about how deep you go, but about going to your personal edge, with the correct alignment, to make the magic happen.

Standing with your feet together, weight in your heels, legs and buttocks engaged, arms still stretched up over your head, fingers interlocked, with index fingers released. Your arms and shoulders may feel fatigued at this point, but do not drop them, this will get easier as you build your strength. 

The legs are the foundation of the backbend – make sure both feet are firmly grounded. Engage the inner thighs and squeeze your glutes. Pelvis in a neutral position, meaning tucking the tail bone slightly. This should happen naturally, when you engage your buttocks. Engage your core; pull in your belly button. Inhale, lift your torso up. Relax your neck allowing your head to gently drop back, lift you heart up to the ceiling and slowly reach your arms back, keeping your arms straight and palms squeezed together. Keep breathing in and out though your nose, look back, keep reaching your arms back, pushing your hips gently forward, weight in the heels. NEVER CRUNCH INTO THE LOWER BACK. Always lift your sternum up, as you move back.  Where your arms and eyes go, your body will follow, natural 'irrigation' of your spine.

Now the forward bend, facilitate the stretch by activating the upper-body strength with a combined upward movement of the hips – this initiates a powerful extension through the spine (primary stretch), and the back of the legs (secondary stretch).

Bend forward from the waist keeping your knees straight, thighs lifted and back flat. Just hang forward and relax your whole body. Bend your knees, to relieve the pressure from your lower back and shake out your legs to warm up your lower back and hamstrings. 

Lift your hips up toward the ceiling and place the fingers under the heels so the little fingers touch together – this allows the elbows to work around the back of the calves.

Touch your stomach to your thighs, your chests to your knees and after 2 to 3 counts – press your face to your shins. It’s more important to keep your upper body pressed to your legs, the fingers under the heels and the elbows behind the legs than it is to straighten the legs!

Slowly lift your hips up to the ceiling as you press your face into your shins in a combined motion, until you completely straighten your legs. Getting your legs straight may take months and be careful if your back is sensitive or injured. Keep your knees bent as much as possible and just grab your ankles, soften and breathe – no pulling. 

Keep working to straighten the legs an inch at a time, using your arm strength to pull up on your calves, ankles or heels.

Be careful coming out of the pose, ascend the same way you went down, keep your knees bent and place your hands on your thighs, if needed.

An important concept in understanding the dynamics of Hot Yoga is “isolation”: flexibility and strength, relaxation and intensity, softening and hardening. Soften and relax the area you’re trying to stretch. In this pose, it is the hamstrings (back of the legs) and lower back, both connected by the sciatic nerve. Strengthen your arms pulling up on your heels and contract your quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh).

Pull on your heels with your biceps, not the shoulders. The shoulders work BACK towards your hips and AWAY from the ears.

It's one helluva warm-up, but a perfect beginning for what is to come.