Viparita Karani - Unusual practice viparita - odd/turned around karani - type of practice Like many inverted asanas, viparita karani can be experienced as a restorative pose. In viparita karani, the belly and the head remain somewhat parallel with the earth while the chest and legs are inverted. As a result, the blood pressure in the legs is moderated, the blood pressure in the belly, chest and head is increased, the blood that nourishes the organs of digestion and elimination pools in the belly. In addition, the chest is expanded like a back bend, which opens the ribs and vitalizes the lungs and heart.
Viparita karani increases the flow of blood to the brain without increasing pressure in the head. When done properly, it will not put pressure on the neck. For all of these reasons, viparita karani is considered one of the most valuable restorative asanas that can be performed. Viparita karani can also be performed with the entire lumbar spine supported on a stack of blankets. In this variation the legs rest on a wall with the arms lying along side of the head. The blankets should support your body from just below the pelvic rim to the kidney area. The bottom of the sacrum and pelvis do not require support, so there will be a slight lumbar lordosis. This supported versions should be set up at a distance from the wall that allows the legs to fully straighten with comfort. The greater the distance, the less challenge there will be to the hamstrings. The arms will rest on the floor along side of the head with the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle.
Before performing viparita karani, you should review setu bandha, because viparita karani is halfway between setu bandha and sarvangasana.
To practice viparita karani, begin by lying on your back and bending the knees. Place the feet on the floor about hip width apart. Roll the deltoids under without pulling the shoulders away from the ears. Use this action to lift the sternum. (At this point, no part of the spine should be touching the floor except the coccyx.) During the rest of this asana, no part of the neck or thoracic spine should be touching the floor — only the head, shoulders and upper arms. Sustain the lift of the sternum while using the legs to raise the pelvis up into setu bandha. Use the work of the legs to maximize the lift of the sternum. The feeling will be as though the sternum is trying to become 90 degrees to the floor. Keep the throat relaxed throughout. Interlace the hands behind the back and roll the shoulders under even more. This action will bring the elbows as close together as possible. Then, pressing the upper arms down, move the hands to the hips, supporting the pelvic rim with the heels of the hands while the buttocks rest in the palms. It is helpful to keep the elbows in as close as possible so that the weight is on the center of the elbows and not on the inside of the elbow joints. The pelvis will feel as though it is sinking slightly into the fingers. Again, make sure the throat is relaxed.
Keeping the sternum as vertical as possible, and the belly as parallel to the floor as possible, lift one leg straight up. Though it may be difficult to keep the chest lifted and the belly level as you work this asana one leg at a time, it is possible. However, if the sternum collapses when lifting just one leg, return to the practice of setu bandha for a while longer and only perform viparita karani as a supported pose with blankets.
If one leg lifts comfortably, lift the other leg to form full viparita karani. Once both legs are lifted, the shoulders should feel very little weight or pressure on them, and the neck should feel no weight at all. If the shoulders are heavy or the back of the neck is bearing weight, this implies that the sternum has dropped. If this is the case, slowly release the asana and correct it, or stay with one of the preparatory versions. If both legs lift comfortably, hold the pose and extend the legs out through the inner heels. Keep the length of the Achilles tendons as you press through the ball mounts of the big toes (and the toes themselves), and keep the outer four toes drawn slightly back. This legwork will straighten the legs fully, which will help to facilitate balance in the pose.
The back of the neck will be longer than the front of the neck in this asana. Thus, to prevent the front of the cervical spine from compressing, resist the chin slightly away from the sternum as the sternum lifts. This action will assist in keeping the back of the neck soft and sustaining the feeling of its natural lordosis. Continue to relax the throat from the outer most skin to the root of the tongue, releasing layer after layer. Deepen this feeling by releasing the ear canals. It will feel as though the conical shape of the ear canal is hollowing all the way into the pit of the throat. Relax the soft palate toward the top of the head and release the eyes and the brain into the back of the skull.
Remain in this asana as long as there is no pressure in the head and the throat is soft. If you begin to feel pressure in the head, or the arms begin to fatigue, it is time to release the pose. To come out, return the feet back to the floor, one at a time, forming setu bandha. Then bring the hands to the floor and continue out of the pose by resting the flat surface of the sacrum to the floor first. Separate the feet and rest the knees together for a moment and just breathe. Then roll to the right side and use the arms to get up.
When you become more comfortable in this asana, it can be used as an entrance into sarvangasana by bringing the hands to the kidneys as you bring the torso and legs to a vertical position.
Sarvangasana – All limb pose (shoulderstand) sarva - all anga - limb asana - pose
Sarvangasana is called the queen of the asanas. It is relaxing to the nervous system and, like all inverted asanas, helps to reverse the degenerative effects of gravity. Sarvangasana is a complicated asana for the neck, shoulders, and chest because in this pose, no weight should be born on the neck, while the sternum remains lifted. The body’s weight should only rest on the shoulders, upper arms, and the back of the head, with the sternum lifting toward the chin. Though the back of the neck is longer than the front of the neck in this asana, try to keep the neck from hardening or becoming taught.
1. Lie on the back with the knees bent. 2. Tuck the outer shoulders under as you bring the knees to the chest and roll onto the shoulders. 3. Keep the elbows in as you bring the hands to the kidneys and extend the torso and legs straight up.
Alternate Method 1. Perform setu bandha. 2. Keep the elbows in as you bring the hands to the kidneys. 3. Press the upper arms down as you lift the torso and legs as vertical as possible.
Lie on your back with the knees bent. Tuck the deltoids under the shoulders to lift the back of the neck away from the floor and initiate a lift of the sternum. Be careful not to move the shoulders away from the head as this will tend to collapse the neck. The feeling of tucking the deltoids under and lifting the sternum will feel as though the back of the spine is being drawn toward the pelvis without taking the shoulders with it. Lift the pelvis from the floor as in setu bandha.
Maximize the lift of the sternum and place the hands as close to the kidney area as possible for support. Try not to separate the elbows any wider than the shoulders, be- cause this will begin to collapse the sternum and put weight on the neck. Lift the legs. If you prefer, the legs can be lifted one at a time, this way you can take the time to remain sensitive to the status of the neck. Eventually, however, you should be able to lift both legs at once without disturbing the neck.
As the sternum lifts, the feeling should be as though the chin is resisting slightly away from the sternum. If you press the chin into the sternum, the back of the neck will harden and the intervertebral disks may compress. This can also create vascular pressure in the head. Keep all layers of the throat and tongue deeply relaxed. The sternocleidomastoids (neck muscles) will often tend to grip in this posture, so be conscious of keeping them soft. Be sure that the eyes and ear canals also remain relaxed. As you hold this asana, press your arms down from the shoulders into the elbows to keep the weight off of the neck and maximize the lift of the sternum toward the chin. A valuable sequence when entering sarvangasana is to go through setu bandha to viparita karani, and then go into sarvangasana from viparita karani.
When the legs are inverted, they will often tend to turn outward. To avoid this, work them in internal rotation. This will keep the sacrum broad, the leg joints parallel, and not harden the groins. You can begin this action with the feet flexed, joining the inner legs as completely as possible. Then, keeping the feeling of length in the Achilles tendons, press upward through the ball mounts of the big toes and inner heels to fully straighten the legs. Keep the femurs moving toward the hamstrings and press the coccyx toward the pubic bone. As in virtually all asanas, the coccyx should ideally release toward the pubic bone because of inner and back body length and not so much because of muscular work in the pelvis. However, sarvangasana usually requires a more muscular action in the sacrum to accomplish this.
Options If it is not possible to perform sarvangasana without putting pressure on the neck, some support may be used. This support can be in the form of firm blankets folded to support the shoulders and upper arms. It is important that the blankets be firm so that the shoulders and upper arms have a solid surface to press against. However, the head and neck should not be placed on the blankets. This support will make it easier to sustain the natural lordosis of the cervical spine.
If it is difficult to keep the elbows from going wider than the shoulders, a belt may be used around the arms, just above the elbows to help keep them in. The correct length of the belt loop should be established before even beginning the asana. This can be done by extending the arms in front of the body and putting the belt loop around the arms just above the elbows, and then adjusting its size to keep the elbows at shoulder width. When using the belt in sarvangasana, it is best to put it on just before the legs are lifted, while in some form of setu bandha or even halasana.
These are just a few options of how to make sarvangasana more accessible to you. Because it is a complicated asana, deciding on the appropriate setup should be done individually with the help of a qualified teacher.
Eka-Pada Sarvangasana - One leg shoulderstand Eka-pada sarvangasana is a valuable asana by itself but also provides a good introduction to halasana. Bringing both feet to the floor over the head in halasana (plough) is obviously a less inverted pose than sarvangasana, but it can be a bit more relaxing. However, in halasana it is more difficult to keep the lift of the sternum. Keeping one leg lifted in this pose has the benefit of using the lifted leg to help maintain the lift of the sternum as the other leg descends.
You enter this asana from sarvangasana. As you let one foot descend to the floor beyond the head, you will have to work the internal rotation of the vertical leg a little more deeply than normal. The head of the femur will tend to drop towards the floor, so you will need to be conscious of lifting it towards the ceiling. This will feel like an exter- nal rotation.
If the foot cannot reach the floor without collapsing the sternum or dragging the vertical leg forward, a chair may be used to support the descending foot. However, be sure to keep both legs charged. Take several breaths here before returning the leg to full sarvangasana. Then take several breaths in sarvangasana before repeating with the op- posite leg.
To come out of sarvangasana, bring both legs over the head just enough to take the weight off of the hands, and then bring the palms to the floor behind the back for sup- port as you unroll the back to the floor. Bend the knees as necessary to keep the head from coming off of the floor as you release the pose. Rest on your
Halasana - Plough pose hala - plough asana - pose
This asana is best performed from viparita karani, sarvangasana, or eka-pada sarvangasana, as each of these asanas provides the foundation for halasana. Otherwise you may enter the asana as follows:
1. Lie on the back with the knees bent. 2. Tuck the deltoids under as you lift the legs and place the feet on the floor over the head. 3. Support the kidney area with the hands and press the shoulders down to remove any weight from the neck.
Alternate Method 1. From sarvangasana (shoulderstand), begin folding at the hips. 2. Keep the legs straight and the torso vertical as you set the toes on the floor beyond the head.
Lie on the back and bend the knees toward the chest. Roll the deltoids under to press the shoulders down and keep the neck off the floor. Let this action initiate the lift of the sternum. Keep the lift of the sternum and bring the legs over the face. Place the toes onto the floor beyond the head and straighten the legs. Place your weight on the tops of the shoulders and not on the neck. Keep the pelvis lifted as high as possible.
To further refine the pose, interlace the fingers behind the back. Use this leverage to bring the elbows as close together as possible and tuck the deltoids under. Be careful not to move the shoulders in a way that will put weight on the neck. Then, keeping the elbows no wider than the shoulders, press the elbows down and bring the hands as close to the kidneys as possible. Use the hands to press the back body toward the front body and maximize the movement of the sternum toward the chin. The sternum is not likely to have the same degree of lift that it has in setu bandha or sarvangasana, but the direction of the action is the same.
The legs should be fully extended in this pose. To do this, they will need to be lengthened through the inner heels as well as through the hips. (This will feel as though you are lengthening the knees.) Take the femurs back into the hips as the hands resist the back of the body toward the front of the body. This will create groin depth and more length in the spine. To deepen this action, you can add groin length by moving the femurs strongly into the hamstrings as you press the shoulders and upper arms down into the floor. This action will feel as though it is coming from the outer legs and will lift weight off of the neck, permitting the chest to open.
Options Like sarvangasana, it may be difficult to keep the weight off of the neck in halasana. So, you may need support under the shoulders and upper arms. A few firm blankets will do this very well. However, the neck and head should not rest on the blankets. The elbows should not be permitted to separate wider than the shoulders, as this will begin to collapse the sternum and cervical spine. A belt may be used just above the elbows to hold them in if they tend to go out farther than the shoulders.
Unlike sarvangasana, the hamstrings play an important role in halasana. If the ham- strings are tight, the knees will want to bend and the front body will tend to go into excessive flexion. Although the spine will experience more flexion in halasana than it will in sarvangasana, this asana should not put pressure on the diaphragm. If the toes do not reach the floor without bending the knees or putting pressure on the diaphragm, use a chair, block, or similar elevation under the toes so that the belly stays open and the legs can straighten.
To release this pose, place the arms on the floor behind the back as you unroll the spine back to the floor. Bend the knees as needed during this process to prevent the head from coming off of the floor. As you take the legs to the floor, take several breaths before rolling to the right side and sitting up. You may also go directly into matsyasana before sitting up. This will provide a balanced counter movement in the neck after practicing halasana or sarvangasana.
Matsyasana - Fish pose matsya - fish asana - pose
Matsyasana is a backbend that encourages the neck to go into full extension. The classical version of this asana is performed in padmasana (lotus pose). Like all asanas, padmasana is something that cannot be forced or rushed. It evolves from a proper opening of the hips and should not put any stress on the knees. The lunge in external rotation is an excellent preparation for padmasana. Since padmasana is not accessible for most people, a straight-legged version of matsyasana is also included here. When beginning to practice or teach this asana it is best to keep all of the weight off of the head. Eventually the weight can be placed on the head, but this requires a deep opening in the upper chest and sternum so that the vertebrae at the neck will not be adversely compressed.
Although this asana is a backbend, it is included with sarvangasana-related asanas because it is often practiced following them to release the neck after their practice.
1. Lie down with the legs in padmasana. 2. Hold the toes with the hands, placing the elbows on the floor. 3. Press the elbows down and lift the chest, resting the top of the head lightly on the floor.
In order for matsyasana to be performed in padmasana, the padmasana needs to be rather deep. This means that the feet should be hooked outside the opposite thighs and the thighs almost parallel with each other. If padmasana is not this deep, it will be difficult to hold the feet and still keep the elbows on the floor. If padmasana is not accessible, use the straight leg version. If it is accessible, proceed with the following description.
Begin the pose by lying down with the legs in padmasana. Hold the feet with the hands, elbows on the floor, shoulder width apart. With an inhalation, initiate the movement into the asana from the chest by moving the inner scapulae down and into the back; this will lift the sternum toward the collarbones. Use thoracic breathing to keep the height of the sternum and back body length. With a maximum lift of the sternum, let the head go back and rest lightly on the floor. (You may also do this pose by bringing the top of the head completely off the floor if you choose.) If the sternum is lifted deeply enough that the neck is completely comfortable with the head fully back, then place more weight on the head and the neck will actually feel better.
To release this pose, gently lift the head and rest the body back onto the floor. Rest for a few breaths and then reverse the legs in padmasana and repeat. Matsyasana with Legs Straight
To practice matsyasana with the legs extended, place the arms behind the back with the palms either facing up or down onto the floor. If the chest is difficult to open, per- forming this asana with the palms up will make opening the chest easier. If the chest opens fully enough to actually pinch the scapulae together, this asana should be per- formed with the palms down, as this will make it easier to keep the back broad without compromising the opening of the front chest.
When you have decided which hand position to use, place the hands on the floor underneath you, bringing the hands as far down the back as possible. This will begin to lift the chest. Then with an inhalation, lift into the pose by bending the elbows and drawing the inner scapulae down and into the back to lift the sternum toward the collarbones.
Let the head hang fully back, resting gently on the floor. If the neck is entirely comfort- able, you may let the head bear some weight. To release, use the elbows to gently lift the head and rest the body back to the floor.