Kapotasana is the oft-dreaded second series backbend of the Ashtanga system.
It’s something of a contortion, but it’s not impossible.
This article helps you build safely and progressively toward kapotasana. You might even find you can do it (dare I say…) comfortably if you prepare well.
The true keys to kapotasana are patience and consistency. Be kind to yourself. Understand that progress can feel slow in the moment. Trust that the fruits are growing every time you put the work in.
And with that…
Try this step-by-step progression into kapotasana:
1. Warmup + Activation 15-45 mins.
Spend 15-45 minutes building internal heat, activating the muscles, and creating openness.
Sun Salutations and standing sequences can do the trick, but be certain to also focus on a few key areas, described next:
Focus on these specifics:
- Internal heat. Create a safe warmth that’ll make you pliable and less susceptible to injury. Sun Salutes and standing series can achieve this, along with ujjayi breath.
- Shoulder mobility. Sure, kapotasana is a backbend; but don’t overlook the fact that it requires a rather extreme range of overhead motion for the shoulders.
- Side body openness. Side bends make backbending easier, so don’t skimp!
- Big-muscle activation. Kapotasana is demanding on the glutes, quads and back. Activate these areas with poses that require contraction of all three, like locust pose.
- Hip flexor openness. You’re going to suffer through kapotasana if your hip flexors aren’t supple. Try passive and active lunge variations to awaken this area.
2. Puppy Pose + Variations Anahatasana
Puppy pose delivers on the overhead shoulder mobility required to do kapotasana.
This passive heart opener will stretch the pecs, lats, and biceps brachialis — needed for that big overhead reach.
Helpful cues for puppy pose:
- Stay for 10 breaths + then counterpose with shoulder extension. Breathe fully, deeply and slowly to get the most you can from it.
- Focus on extending your elbows actively. Lift to fingertips for added openness.
- Aim first for chin down, then throat down. The cervical spine extension will ultimately help you see where you’re going and create comfort in kapotasana.
- Intentionally work toward deeper and more active variations (a few pictured above). Don’t get stuck in the no man’s land of passivity and stalled progress. Puppy has a lot to offer, so take full advantage.
3. Wheel Pose + Variations / Urdhva Dhanurasana
Wheel pose is an excellent way to open and activate the right parts on your way to kapotasana.
Be sure to take advantage of deepening variations to get all you can from this classic backbend.
Helpful Variations of Wheel Pose:
Do at least 3 variations of wheel with counterposes in between. Take at least 5 breaths in each one.
- Straight-leg variation. Once you’re warm enough to do this variation, start pushing the balls of your feet into the mat. Work toward straightening the legs.
- Heart-to-wall variation. Once you’re nice and warm, practice wheel with your head facing the wall. Work to press your heart up against the wall while keeping the arms long and strong.
- Elbow-down variation. Take one elbow down at a time. Take prayer hands or increase the difficulty by keeping the forearms shoulders-width apart.
- Knees-down variation. Set one knee down at a time. If you succeed in this, try your damnedest to straighten your arms.
4. Camel Pose + Variations at the Wall / Ustrasana
Kapotasana is essentially a variation of camel pose, so it comes as no surprise that working on variations of camel will prep your body well for the deeper version, “kapo.”
Don’t miss the opportunity for wall work.
Helpful variations of camel pose at the wall:
- The wall camel + push. Note: This is not about depth! It’s about the length of your arms and the lift of your heart. Your goal should be to find comfort here (yes, really) before you go any deeper. If it’s not at all comfortable, consider stopping here for the day.
- Walk down the wall. Once again, concern yourself more with lengthening your arms than with going low. This is about creating freedom on every step of the journey. Don’t be in a rush to “go all the way.” Your back will thank you.
Helpful variations of camel pose without the wall:
- Dropback into camel. Doing this skill alone means you’re close to the whole shebang. A helpful clue: Don’t worry at first about having your hands land close to your feet. Most will start the dropback landing quite far from the feet. That’s okay! (You can always walk your hands closer.)
- Dropback and walk hands to heels. Once you’ve progressed far enough with the camel dropback, you’ll be able to walk your hands onto your heels. Helpful hint: Draw your elbows out wide to the side in oder to place hands on the feet. Once you’re in position, straighten your arms and lift your chest!
5. Et Voila, Kapotasana
If you’ve come this far and you’ve still got juice, do a body scan to make sure a kapotasana attempt is really “okay” with your body right now.
There is zero shame (only wisdom) in walking away from a pose on any given day. There is always another day.
If you’re feeling good, proceed!
Entering kapotasana the vinyasi way (I am not an Ashtangi if ya haven't noticed):
- Drop back and get your hands to the ground. Push hard to extend the arms.
- Crawl your hands up toward your toes or heels with this goody trick: Draw each elbow out wide to the side, one at a time. Feels and looks weird but is very effective.
- Snuggle those elbows down if possible. Never push past your reasonable limits. Use your gaze to facilitate the backbend (try to peer toward your bum, even if you feel like that’ll never happen).
Challenging but not impossible
Kapotasana is certainly deep and demanding for most practitioners. Still, with regular practice and a ton of patience, it can be unlocked.
Good luck to you. I’d love to hear how your kapotasana is coming along.
Thank you for reading!
Leigha Butler is a long-time YouTuber, yogi, momma, vegan, and lover of wellness. She brings her former life as an Environmental Lit teacher to bear on her writings — with the goal of uplifting people and planet.
You can practice with her weekly from the comfort of your home. Sign up for free trial on her membership site, LBY.