The key areas for focus in this SMFR sequence are:
The hip flexors
Rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae (TFL), iliacus, and psoas. When chronically short and tight, these muscles draw the pelvis into anterior tilt, in which the front of the pelvis tips forward and thus deepens the curve in the lumbar spine. When we backbend in anterior pelvic tilt we come to the end of our range in the lumbar spine more quickly. Instead of giving the hip flexors a much-needed stretch, we can end up feeling pressure or compression in the low back—especially when gravity deepens the backbend, as it does in upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) and camel pose (ustrasana). Releasing our hip flexors to reduce anterior pelvic tilt may allow us to explore our range of motion without crowding the low back.
The rectus abdominis
This familiar abdominal muscle draws the base of the sternum toward the front of the pelvis. While subtle engagement can provide helpful support in backbending poses, excessive tension there can leave us feeling constricted and unable to find free range of motion or easy breathing. A tight rectus abdominis isn’t an issue for everyone, but it can be for athletes and those who unconsciously brace the belly or hold it in.
Muscles that limit arm and shoulder movement
The pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi in particular. The pectoralis major is our main chest muscle, while the latissimus connects the inner upper arm with the low back. Sitting doesn’t just influence the hips and spine; the arm and chest muscles also tend to get short and tight when we chronically slump forward with our arms in front of our body. This can be a limiting factor in backbends, most of which involve the arms as well as the hips and spine.
Backbends that require the arms to move behind the body into extension, such as bow pose (dhanurasana), require the pecs to lengthen. The deepest backbends—including wheel, or upward bow pose (urdhva dhanurasana), and the overhead bind in dancer pose(natarajasana)—take the arms into overhead flexion, which requires elasticity in both pecs and lats. So relaxing chronic tension in these muscles can make backbends feel significantly freer, increasing the mobility of the arms and reducing the required range from the spine.
The upper portion of the gluteus maximus.
The lower portion of gluteus maximus is a hip extensor, which makes it a huge help in backbends, but the upper portion assists hip external rotation. When our glutes fire strongly both movements tend to occur (which is why the knees tend to flare wide in backbends). Hip external rotation in backbends is not problematic for some, but in others it can crowd or compress the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine that joins the two halves of the pelvis). Releasing the upper portion of gluteus maximus might just help us find more hip extension without feeling the glutes grip or clench around the sacrum.
This SMFR sequence will help you unlock some of these common areas of resistance, creating space for you to feel freer and easier in your unique range of motion. You will need two same-size massage or tennis balls (shown below are the Recovery Rounds by RAD and Yoga Medicine® and a yoga block.
Before you try the sequence, practice a backbend you usually experience as limited. That will give you a baseline for comparison after myofascial release.
Note: Self myofascial release on the abdomen is not recommended during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, either skip these locations (iliacus, psoas, and rectus abdominis) entirely or seek advice from your healthcare provider.