The cold of winter draws us inward. The sky darkens, the air grows chillier and we enter a period of greater introspection. During winter we find rest and rejuvenation in savasana, corpse pose, or supta baddha konasana, reclined bound angle pose.
But the transition to spring is now upon us. Just as the buds will soon begin appearing on trees it’s time for us to move into life more fully. This is the time to open our hearts, release old perspectives and integrate what we have learned during our time inside. This is a great time to emphasize backbends, which truly open the front side of the spine.
Backbends are important in spring for so many reasons: they get prana moving in our bodies and auras, they stimulate the kidneys, open the diaphragm and wake up kapha dosha. But one of the greatest benefits is that they help us connect with our heart chakras. When we are in touch with our hearts, we can begin to see the truth that guides us and walk forward in faith. With backbends, we can walk away from falsehoods and experience the light of the divine. They assist in our practice of satya, honesty, one of the five yamas that are part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Over the next three months, we’ll be posting on three backbends – salabasana, locust pose, setu bandhasana, bridge pose, and urdhva dhanurasana, wheel pose – to help you connect with satya and your heart chakra and wake up to the new possibilities of spring.
Salabasana variations are gentle, but powerful backbends. They are simple and yield great benefits. Done properly, with chest and legs at the same height, chest and upper back broad and shoulders blades drawn down the back, salabasana boosts your mood – calling an end to any winter blues. The pose also increases energy, enhances digestion and strengthens the back, legs and arms. In fact, the variation with the arms extended, paired with pelvic floor exercises, is highly effective at eliminating back pain.
Start with your ujjayi breath. Feel the prana flow in your body as you breathe. Keep your inhale and exhale even and with the same sound. Let your movements flow with your breath.
1. Begin your practice with a gentle opening sequence, such as surya namaskar, sun salutations, to warm up your spine.
2. Lie flat on your stomach with your chin or forehead on the mat, legs together.
3. Engage neutral spine. To do this, extend your tailbone slightly toward your heels (this is a small, but important adjustment – just about 1/8th inch, or ½ centimeter – to move into proper alignment). Hold this throughout the pose.
4. Breathe in as you lift your chest, arms and legs evenly at the same time. For a variation that is gentle on tight shoulders, raise your arms by your torso, fingers pointing toward your heels. Be sure your wrists are straight and not touching your body. For a more challenging variation, extend your arms forward a little wider than the shoulders as long as you don’t feel any pinching or pain in your lower back or shoulders. Or, you can interlace your fingers behind the largest part of your head and press your hands and head into one another to strengthen the neck. Whichever variation you choose, extend your shoulder blades down your back and keep your arms straight. If you tend to hyperextend, bend your elbows slightly to keep them straight.
5. Take 15 – 20 breaths in your variation then go into a resting pose, such as balasana, child’s pose. If time allows, practice two more rounds.
6. End with savasana and awaken to a fresh perspective.
Common trouble spots
Practice sustainable Yoga
As you practice salabasana, or any other asana, be gentle with yourself. Yoga is not about performance – it is about awareness. Pain is a sign that you have pushed your body too far. Embrace the sweetness of a softer variation of this pose before advancing to a new, more challenging one. Remember that life is in the subtleties. This is how you’ll be able to enjoy salabasana – and find your truth – for your whole life.