About a year ago I took a genius back bending class with my teacher that completely altered the way I think about prepping these powerful and challenging poses.

We worked most of the class on hip stretches, some stretches for the front legs, but mostly poses that either stretched or worked the outer and inner hip such as Wide Leg Forward Fold, Pigeon Stretches, Bound Angle, Triangle, and Half Moon.  Then we went right up into full Wheel Poses. I don't think I have ever felt more free, strong, and light before in a back bend.  I began to think about the reasoning for the class and came up with some ideas about why the sequence was so effective.

Firstly the outer hip, indeed the whole side body, is a prime space of restriction in both forward and backward bending.  In his book Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers likens the side lines of the body to a zipper.  If they are too tight, our ability to create other ranges of motion is impaired.  So to hyper-extend the hip joints and freely extend the spine in a back bend we must be able to lengthen through the sides of the body.  And to allow the pelvis to move freely and to free the lumbar spine, we must also open into the inner hips and front groins. 

The plan: dig out the outer hip muscles, inner thigh muscles, and the hip flexors as well as the quadriceps.  Loosely, for my fellow anatomy geeks, we need to loosen the rectus femoris and vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, psoas, gluteus medius and maximus, TFL, the IT band, the thigh adductors, and the external hip rotators.  But don't think too much in terms of individual muscles, think more about opening general areas.

I've adapted my teacher's Iyengar approach by using the same principles in a pose sequence more suitable for a Vinyasa Style class. The sequence below is an example of opening front, inner, outer hips for back bends.  Those of you who take my class a lot, you are very familiar with this set of poses!  The poses can be done in one sequence or with a Down Dog/Chaturanga Vinyasa in between each one.

1. Crescent Lunge

2. Side Angle

3. Deep Hip Stretch (Lizard Pose)

4. Three Leg Dog Straight Leg Open Hip (Pull body back away from wrists press flying foot up)

5. Warrior 1 (Front of back thigh turning forward drop the back of the pelvis)

6. Warrior 1 Clasped Hands Ostrich Stretch (Make sure the bent leg hip presses into the body and pulls back)

7. Twisting Quad Stretch Lunge

8. Pigeon

9. Pigeon Quad Stretch (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Rinse and Repeat on the other side

9a. For the advanced practitioner, Handstand or Forearm Stand after this sequence feels amazing and can help prep the shoulders for Wheel Pose. For Intermediate to Beginner, Down Dog or Dolphin will do the same work.