Find Freedom with Backbends this Summer

Though it feels like spring here in DC, the summer is still upon us. Summer is the perfect time for backbending postures like full wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) which require warm muscles and an open mind. Backbends are intended to broaden and expand the chest and rib cage to enhance the body’s ability to perform breathwork (pranayama). Backbends can be exciting and empowering. They can also, however, be intimidating and scary. If backbends are not a freeing experience for you, your approach—both mentally and physically—may need some fine tuning.

Flipped Dog
Photo Credit: Leo Matsuo / Wardrobe Provide by Endless Summer Design

When performed correctly, backbends increase your range of motion. Many of us spend hours upon hours sitting—and let’s be honest, most of us don’t have the best posture when doing so. As a result, we lose a few degrees of the normal curve in our lumbar (lower) spine. That curve is part of our natural architecture as bipeds, distinctly purposed to provide us humans with the ability to carry our own body weight without damaging our joints and overall health. When we lose that gentle arch in the lower back we increase our likelihood of lower back, hip and knee pain because we aren’t properly stacked to handle our body’s mass as it moves through space.

Backbends help counter our daily damage by increasing extension and restoring that lumbar curve. They have also been linked to arthritis prevention, increased stamina and energy, depression relief, and  improved lung capacity, circulation and digestion. On a more emotional level, many practitioners believe that backbends help them let go of the past and focus on the present, and open their heart when fear has taken it hostage.

Whether you’re looking to improve your emotional or physical health—or both for that matter!—look no further than yoga backbends. From the milder baby cobra and sphinx poses to the more intense camel and king pigeon poses, there is a backbend for every level.

Check out my Favorite Eight:

  1. Sphinx Pose
  2. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
  3. Bow (Dhanurasana)
  4. King Pigeon (Kapotasana)
  5. Camel (Ustrasana)
  6. Wild Thing (Camatkarasana )
  7. Full Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
  8. Dancer (Natarajasana)

If you fall into that “intimidated/scared” category when it comes to attempting backbends, here are a few helpful hints to do them the right way:

  • Warm up your body! A few Sun As and Bs should do the trick. The key is to move the body in ways that open the chest, hip flexors, quads and hips.
  • Focus on maintaining length in the front body. True, backbends increase extension in the lower back but people have a tendency to collapse in these poses, crunching the lumbar spine. To avoid back pain, focus on keeping a broad chest and long front body, and bending from the middle and upper back instead of hinging from your sacrum.
  • Don’t squeeze your booty. Squeezing the muscles of your rear end counteracts internal rotation of the hips which is essential in all backbends to avoid compression of the spine. When you activate your gluteus maximus, your hips externally rotate causing your knees to splay wide. To develop the muscle memory needed to encourage internal rotation of the hips, squeeze a block between your thighs when practicing full wheel, camel, and other belly-up backbends.
  • Breathe. Fear can be paralyzing in a backbend and the more you resist the more likely you are to tense the muscles that lead to compression and ultimately discomfort. When going into backbends, focus on your breath and allow your mind to calm down and enjoy all the goodness a backbend can bring.

Just a quick note of caution (safety first!): If you have any back issues, please consult with your yoga instructor and doctor before performing any backbends.

DIY Holiday Gift Idea: Infused Vinegars

In the latest edition of one of my favorite cooking magazine’s Eating Well, I came across a great Christmas gift idea. Since I make my own salad dressings all the time, I know the simple joy of having a tasty flavored vinegar to work with as your base. Eager to start exploring the art of canning and itching for a new DIY project, I thought making infused vinegars as gifts this holiday season just might fit the bill.

The finished product!
The finished product!

As a nutrition enthusiast, I was also pleased to learn that out of the 6 herbs used in these two infused vinegar variations 4 made the Huffington Post’s Top 25 Healthy Herbs list. In the Oregano, Rosemary & Marjoram Infused Vinegar, oregano has both antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has also been found to be effective against yeast-based infections. Rosemary is rich in several antioxidants, making it a potent combatant of inflammation. In the Fennel, Orange & Star Anise Infused Vinegar, star anise and fennel provide a sweet taste similar to that of black licorice when used in foods. Anise seeds have been proven to soothe tummy aches and help with symptoms of the common cold.  For the ladies out there, estrogen-like properties found in anise may increase milk flow in breastfeeding mothers, treat menstrual symptoms and boost libido. Feeling bloated? Fennel is your GI track’s buddy, helping your body deal with uncomfortable digestive issues (WebMD).


Oregano, Rosemary & Marjoram Infused Vinegar:

  • 6 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 9 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 9 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 9 sprigs fresh marjoram
  • Additional fresh herbs for decoration (optional)

Fennel, Orange & Star Anise Infused Vinegar:

  • 6 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 9 fronds from 1 fennel bulb
  • 3 strips zest from 1 medium orange (see Tips)
  • 9 whole star anise (see Tips)
  • Additional fresh herbs for decoration (optional)

What you’ll need:

  • 6 pint-size (2-cup) glass canning jars (3 per recipe)
  • tongs
  • cheesecloth
  • decorative vinegar cruts (2 16-oz or 4 8-oz)

How to make them:

  1. Wash 6 pint-size (2-cup) heatproof glass-canning jars and their lids with hot soapy water. Rinse well with hot water. Fill a large, deep pot about half full with water. Place the jars upright into the pot; add enough additional water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil; boil jars for 10 minutes. Add the lids to the pot, and then remove the pot from the heat. Let the jars and lids stay in the hot water as you prepare the flavoring and vinegar. (Keeping the jars warm minimizes breakage when filling with hot liquid.)
  2. Thoroughly rinse herbs with water. Remove the jars from the water bath with a jar lifter or tongs. Divide the herbs among the jars. Heat vinegar in a large saucepan to a bare simmer (at least 190°F). Carefully divide the vinegar among the prepared jars, leaving at least 1/4-inch of space between the top of the jar and the vinegar. Remove lids from the water bath, dry with a clean towel and screw tightly onto the jars.
  3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place, undisturbed, for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain vinegar through cheesecloth into another container. Repeat as needed until all the sediment is removed and the vinegar is clear. Discard all solids and pour the strained vinegar back into rinsed jars or divide among sterilized decorative bottles. Decorate with a few well-rinsed fresh herbs, if desired.

With Christmas just one month away, time to get cracking! These babies need 3-4 weeks to really let the flavors seep in, so why not make this Sunday Funday a little better with a little DIY action and save a little extra $$$ for Cyber Monday.