I've had such a bad back over the past 4 weeks, at the joint between the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae. Even resting from loads of deep kapo and hanging back hasn't really helped, which I thought was a bit weird... So I've been a bit standoffish when it's come to back work recently.
Today I had one of those 'I can't be bothered to practice' days but dragged myself onto the mat as soon as I got home. I'm so glad I did. I decided when I got to end of standing I'd do second and went straight into it. I've only been practicing second a couple of times a week recently. Despite the recent lower back pain kapo was relatively easy and keeping the knees pressing down and thighs completely engaged was working to get me deep very quickly. Where was the pain? What was I doing differently? I scanned my body and it was the shoulder blades....they were pulling right down my back and close into the spine..everything felt perfectly aligned. I was engaging something that I had never engaged before. So I got up and re-created the feeling in urdhva dhanurasana and again, felt completely stable.
Now, whilst I can drop back, I confess I normally do the 'Lino' style taking my hands down the legs then letting go and rotating them inwardly to land. It feels safe! I've always had a feel of not being able to open the thoracic spine enough and when I go back with hands in prayer I feel terrified and somewhat claustrophobic, like everything around the chest is closing in. (Image from ihanayoga.com.au)
Plus, the hands in prayer position looks so much nicer doesn't it?!
So I raised my arms towards the ceiling, palms facing forward thumbs touching overhead, looking up and drawing the shoulder blades down the back and sucking them towards the spine, I placed my palms together and drew them into the heart centre, with engaged thighs I arched back and without any problems dropped back! So what has been the problem? I was so worried I'd drop onto my head my shoulders were somewhere round my ears and the shoulder girdle lifted, closing the heart area at the front of the body.
Kapo has also been awful because my right shoulder goes back effortlessly but my left just doesn't want to engage in any way at all, which means when being adjusted, normally with the right first, I get the right heel then my left arm/shoulder just won't rotate properly which puts me into a panic that I'm gonna put the joint out...and I fail miserably! It's as if without correct engagement of the back muscles, the front won't open.
So the muscles of the shoulder girdle, the trapezius and the deltoids are contracted to keep the shoulder blades in the correct position whilst entering the postures, then once you're in the back bend, release these by engaging their antagonists, the pectoralis and the latissimus dorsi. The erector spinae and quadratus lumborum also need releasing by engaging the abdominals, especially rectus abdominis. It's important to release the erector spinae once in the back bend as their contraction will pinch the spinus processes of the vertebrae together which will prevent any further movement in the bend.
So there you go. Some tips on working on urdhva, kapo and dropping back with hands in prayer. Hopefully now my left shoulder will build up strength correctly and over time will balance out with the right... :) Hallejulah!