Upper back opener

Many times before a class, you can assist your upcoming practice by opening parts of your body that can get a little stubborn.  For many of us the upper back is disinclined toward bending, whereas the lower back will bend in all sorts of directions, occasionally to our detriment.  A simple gravity-assisted upper back stretch can be useful to get the muscles open and encouraged in the backbending direction.

To do this stretch, place a yoga block or rolled-up blanket on your mat width-wise and lie face-up on it with the block or blanket just underneath the bottom tips of your shoulder blades.  If you were to draw a line around to your back from the point where your ribs meet in front, just below your sternum, this is the spot you should feel the bend.  You may wish to start with the block on its lowest setting;  the medium setting is pictured here.


Allow your hips to sink down to the floor and pull your abdominal muscles in so that the lower back doesn’t resort to taking the brunt of the stretch. You should feel the backs of your legs all the way into your gluteal muscles resting on the floor.  To begin with they may not rest comfortably.  Use your breath to sink the backs of your legs into the floor.

Use a blanket if needed on which to rest the back of your head.  Rather than tilting your chin up toward the ceiling, see if you can tuck your chin slightly to keep the back of your neck long.  Eventually as you sink into this stretch, you can remove the blanket and rest the back of your head onto the floor.  As this stretch becomes easier for you over time, you can replace the blanket with a block, and change the settings on the block, taking it even to the highest setting.  This way your back becomes accustomed to bending in the upper area while keeping the lower part of the back long and supported.


One of the primary benefits of this work is that while you put yourself in the position of a backbend and feel some of the emotional and physical concerns that come up in that position, you can use your breath, your single-pointed focus, and the softening assistance of gravity to prepare you to do the same once you are in more active poses.