Upper back access

The area of the back below the neck and between the shoulder blades tends to lack pliability, making it difficult for us to extend this part of the spine. Think of the people you have seen who have a pronounced hunchback. This is all of our destiny if we do not take care to stretch, tone and de-congest this part of the body.

There are many asanas that help us explore greater movement and energy flow in the upper back. Below are variations of locust (salabhasana), sphinx (salamba bhujangasana), cobra (bhujangasana), upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), which encourage extension of the mid-spine.

Variations of locust (salabhasana)

Begin by lying on your belly, arms by your sides with palms down. Engage you core by lifting either side of the bellybutton up to the lower ribs; make the sacrum heavy and press the tops of the feet into the floor. The gluteus muscles remain as relaxed as possible. Press the hands down and imagine dragging them towards your head, but do so only to the point where your elbows bend a little, and the shoulders roll back. Then, lift the upper body, again without engaging the glutes, and breathe. Keep the back of the neck long. Refer to top and middle photo below. Relax by lowering yourself to the ground and resting your head on your hands.

Locust (variation at top and middle) and Sphinx (bottom): both of these asanas ask the mid-spine to extend

Sphinx (salamba bhujangasana)

Place the forearms down parallel to each other, elbows under the shoulders (or slightly ahead of them, especially if the lower back feels uncomfortable). Hands need to be as far apart as elbows – they will likely want to come together (you can refer to the post on downward facing dog preparation for alignment details for the arms, which are the same in this pose). Just as for the locust pose variations, engage you core by lifting either side of the bellybutton up to the lower ribs; make the sacrum heavy and press the tops of the feet into the floor. The gluteus muscles remain as relaxed as possible. Press down on the forearms, lift your upper body up, and imagine pulling your heart forward and up between the upper arms. Refer to bottom photo in the series above.

Cobra (bhujangasana)

Place the hands under the shoulders, or slightly forward of the lower back feels compressed. Follow the same instructions as for the earlier poses: engage you core by lifting either side of the bellybutton up to the lower ribs; make the sacrum heavy and press the tops of the feet into the floor; relax the gluteus muscles. Press down on the hands and lift the upper body, encouraging the mid-spine to nudge forward, as the lower back lengthens. See two top photos in the series below.

Upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana)

From cobra pose, curl the toes under, push forward and up to point the toes and lift the heart, and press down on the hands. The hips and thighs are now off the ground – you will be bearing weight only on the tops of the feet and the hands, much like a suspension bridge bears weight only on the pilings at either end. The same alignment cues apply as for the earlier poses: engaged core, relaxed glutes, mid-spine nudging forward. Then lift the hips and move into downward facing dog to counter balance the pose.

End with child’s pose.

Pay attention to how you feel energetically once finished with the practice 🙂


Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston. 

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