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Open Your Heart with Back Bending

In this Bridge pose, the feet are too far forward. The heels should be lined up under the knees, not too far forward or too close. Her chin is turned up and should be aiming towards her neck to lengthen her neck. Her chest is lifting towards her chin which is opening her heart or chest.  In this Bridge pose, the knees are over the toes and too far forward. When you lie down on your back and stretch your arms along your body, your fingers should just touch your heels. As you can see in this pic, the fingers are reaching towards the middle of the foot. This is a beautiful Bridge Pose. Her chest is wide open, her palms are pressed together in a fist, her knees are over her ankles.
This is a well executed Locust pose. Her head is in line with her feet. She is not cocking her head back or allowing it to fall back. It is in line with her spine.
Camel Pose Ustrasana: Step 1-Start with placing your hands on your lower back. Your knees should be over your hips and feet flexed. You can place a blanket or folded towel under your knees if you have discomfort standing on your knees. Lift your heart to the ceiling more than thinking about grabbing your feet. Bring your shoulder blades together. Camel Pose Step 2-Place your hips forward over your knees, try to touch your heels or if possible grab your ankles but only if you can keep your hips forward over your knees. If either are impossible for now, just keep your hands on your back. Only let your head go back if that is comfortable for you. It is not appropriate for everyone. Otherwise keep your chin tucked to your chest. Step 3: Point your toes and grab her heels or place the palms face down on the soles of your feet but only if the knees are still under your hips. That would be the most advanced version of Camel pose.
This is a beautiful Cow Pose (part of cat/cow warm up). The lady in this pic has her shoulders drawn back to open across her chest, her neck is in a safe position, her shoulders are stacked over her wrists and her hips are stacked over her knees. In this Cow pose the girl is cocking her head back and crunching her neck which is not safe for one's neck, her shoulders are not stacked over her wrists and they are jutting forward closing her heart or chest.In this Cow pose the girl's shoulders are not lined up over her wrists and her hips are not lined up over her knees however her neck is in a safe position.Back Bends are heart openers, literally! When you expand your chest area, you are opening the heart chakra, the Anahata, is located in the middle of the chest. When we sit most of the day with hunched shoulders at our computers, we are contracting our pectoral muscles and our heart center is slammed shut. The weight of the world is on our 
shoulders rounding them forward. This not only effects our muscles and we feel tight and have pain but is a sign you are protecting your heart and keeping it closed. 

In yoga practice there are many back bend poses which focus on opening the heart and expanding the chest where our heart chakra resides.

In yoga, the back is your relationship to the future and your front body is your connection to the past. Resistance to or difficulty with back bending could mean a fear of moving forward into the future. A preference for forward bending might mean you are stuck in the past.

The good news is by working on your back bending will help you move forward in life and you will find relief you seek in your tight shoulders and chest. 

All back bends are focus on opening the chest area but not the lower back. We always want to lengthen the lower back in back bends. We should not arch the lower back which is a common error new students make. Lengthening the lower back in back bends protects it from injury. 

One remedy to open your chest is to watch one's posture while doing daily activities such as hunching at your computer, desk, lap top or phone. As you gain more awareness of your unconscious habits during a yoga class, you will gain more awareness of your unconscious habits during the day not just with your body but that will be focused on in another post. 

It's also important to know how to practice back bends properly. I've included pics of common back bends with descriptions of how to perform them properly with proper modifications.

The chakras are energy centers located along our spine. There are 7 that we focus on the most. Different poses focus on opening different chakras. In back bending we focus on opening the heart chakra.

Info on Chakras from balanced-energy.com 

The Human Energy Field or Aura is an energetic, multi-dimensional field that surrounds penetrates, and is the human body.  It has rivers of energy called meridians that nourish every organ and cell in our bodies.  These rivers are supplied by seven cone shaped, spinning vortexes of energy called chakras (pronounced "Shock-ra").  These chakras, in turn, collect energy from the Universal Energy Field that is all around us.

The heart chakra:

Located on the spine, in the area of the heart.  This chakra is associated with our ability to give and receive love, to feel compassion, to reach out to others.  The Asians say that this is the house of the soul as it deals with issues of the soul.  It is the center of the chakras, and can balance the activities of the seven energy centers.  Physically it is linked to the heart, lower lung area, circulatory system, the Thymus gland, and immune system.  An important chakra for healing.  When too weak, you may feel closed to others, low self-esteem, insecurity, jealousy, feeling unloved, "poor me" syndrome, and self-doubting.  Overactive, you may experience the "martyr" syndrome, giving too much of oneself, overconfident, jealousy and stinginess.

This Wheel Pose is a good place to start. His arms are straight which is the first thing to focus on in Wheel Pose. He needs to place more weight on his hands. When coming down from Wheel Pose, remember to tuck your chin into your chest first.

This is a beautifully executed wheel pose. The woman has her shoulders over her wrist which you want to work towards and means her shoulders are very open. Eventually she should have her knees over her ankles also. Little by little she should walk her feet closer to her head.
Upward facing Dog Pose: This is an example of a well executed upward facing dog pose. Her head follows her spine. Her knees are lifted off the floor slightly and her hips are moving down towards her wrists which creates the back bend. The outer corners of her chest are open and her shoulders are drawn back.
Upward Facing Dog: This woman has her shoulders over her fingertips which is hyperextending her wrists. Her shoulders are not being forced forward and therefore tightening. They should be drawn back to open the outer corners of her chest or it would be a better choice to choose Baby Cobra as her backbend when performing the sun salutation until she can open her chest fully. Her head is also too far back fro her neck and is not in line with her spine causing neck tension. The head should always line up with the spine and there should be a natural arc. Upward Facing Dog Pose: The girl in this pic does not have her shoulders aligned over her wrists as she should have in Upward Facing Dog Pose and her knees are on the floor, The knees should be slightly lifted but not so much the hips lift too high. The hips in this pose should be descending down towards the wrists.He head is completely out of alignment with her spine. She is cocking it back in a very unnatural and dangerous way. Better to look forwards until you know how to move your neck with your spine.

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