Whether you're learning how to practice deep backbends or simply trying to stand up straighter, incorporating these variations into your yoga flow will teach your body how to better engage your back muscles on and off your mat.
Use oppositional energy to get deeper into your muscles
Backbends are tough on their own, but until you stop worrying about depth and start working your muscles, you're only getting half the benefit. Instead of craning your back and neck as far as you can, work the mobility that prevents you going deeper. By pressing your elbows into each other and trying to squeeze your hands apart, you're lengthening the upper back and shoulders while prepping your body for deeper backbends.
Work your whole back and core in sphinx pose
Sphinx pose often feels like a treat in the midst of a sweaty yoga class, and oftentimes we approach it with relaxation in mind rather than strength. For this variation, squeeze your back muscles as if there's a hundred dollar bill placed in between them, and use that engagement to lift your chest away from the ground. This is crucial for more advanced poses, like king cobra and peacock.
Test your real range of motion
Yoga poses are great. But it's all too easy to land a pose and think that you've nailed it. The truth is, yoga isn't about nailing the pose. It's about finding your edge over and over again, challenging it, testing it, and see how far you can go in any given moment.
Take this classic reverse namaskar. Yes, the picture on the left is the pose. But the picture on the right is the yoga. By keeping his hands pressed together and pushing his palms back, Hiro tests the flexibility in his shoulders and upper back while also strengthening his lats, rhomboids, and serratus anterior.
Turn king pigeon prep into a full body toner
For anyone working on their full king pigeon, this is for you. By working your end range of mobility and getting super specific about what you do and don't engage, you'll be able to get deeper, quicker.
Make your "easy twist" not so easy
Who knew easy twist could be a killer arm and leg workout. Rather than letting yourself melt into the pose, engage your muscles to lift your arm and foot off the mat. This not only works your chest and quad, but it actually deepens the twist, too!
Turn a shoulder release into a shoulder strengthener
These might look the same on the outside, but rest assured, Right Side Hiro is feeling this. Instead of passively stretching, drive your elbows into the block and try to turn your triceps towards the ground. A few breaths here will get you deeper into your puppy pose and forearm stand than five minutes of relaxing into it.
Try these out the next time you want to strengthen your yoga flow, and check out Hiro's new series Intro to Body Smart Yoga for more ways to test your strength and mobility.