I remember the first time I saw someone holding her ankles in full wheel pose, it struck me that it wasn’t her spine bending in half, but rather her hip extension was unreal!
If you look at people with deep backbends you’ll usually see that their hip flexors (the muscles used to bring your knee towards your chest, the muscles that get tight from sitting down a lot) are super open. I realised that in my backbends, I was bending solely in the lumbar spine.
So I started working on opening my quads and hip flexors. And these are some of the things I did — I enhanced the already good stretch of poses such as bridge and low lunge, by bringing more active stretching into my quads, as shown.
NB: There are a gazillion other stretches and modifications too, because “hip flexors” make up a whole lot of muscles, and of course there’s so much more to flexibility than this—but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible!
My main point is that you can enhance the active stretch of many postures if you’re working to open the quads and hip flexors for your backbends, and a good way is to bring the foot closer to your butt, and ☝️ this part’s important ☝️ ENGAGE the glutes and hamstrings. They keep the pelvis stable but also act as antagonists to your front body muscles.
Cobra is also great for opening the chest too. Tip: try to keep your navel on the mat so the opening happens in the chest. (Can you see I’m still working on this? 😅).
Hope this helps! Please remember everyone is different and backbends are anatomically and psychologically complex! Move in a way that makes you feel EMPOWERED 💪