Salabhasana or Locust Pose is the safest way to prepare yourself for backbends. This mild backbend builds the core strength you will need to protect your back in deeper backbends.
(Pronounced as "SHA-la-BAHS-anna")
In Sanskrit, salabha traditionally means "locust." Here your body takes the shape of a locust lying in the grass, getting ready to fly.
Before you start, spread out a yoga blanket on top of your mat to have some extra cushioning for your hips. Now lie face down on your yoga mat. Stretch your arms back with your forearms against the ground and palms facing the ceiling. Tighten your buttocks and tuck your tailbone in firmly toward the floor.
Take a breath. On an exhalation, lift your straight legs, arms and chest up off of the mat at the same time. Pull your ribs as much up off of the mat as possible. Try to put as much of your weight on your belly, pelvis and abdomen as you can while keeping everything else lifted off the ground. Arch your chest and look up toward the sky. Keep your legs and feet together.
Stretch your arms back, keeping them parallel to the ground. Hold your arms at the same level as your legs and try to keep reaching further behind you as your chest expands. Tuck your shoulder blades strongly into your spine, rolling your shoulders back.
Do not crunch your neck as you continue looking up. Let the lift of your head be a natural extension of the arching of your entire back. Your head looks up at about a 45-degree angle from the floor.
Hold the posture for 30 seconds. Over time, you can practice extending the time up to a minute.
If you need some extra support to hold this pose, then roll up a yoga blanket and place it under your torso near the top of your rib cage to train your chest to lift properly. Then you can also roll up another yoga blanket and place it under the middle of your thighs on the mat to support your leg lifting.
When you start becoming comfortable with Salabhasana, then you can try the intermediate version. After you come into the full pose, bend your knees and keep your thighs apart, holding your shins up perpendicular to the floor. You can slightly point your toes as the soles of your feet now face the ceiling. Take a breath. When you exhale, lift your thighs off the mat and bring your knees closer together. Keep stretching your straightened arms back and lifting your chest. You can press the tops of your hands into the mat now to help you lift further.
For a greater challenge in this pose, try the advanced version of Salabhasana called Makarasana, or Crocodile Pose. You pronounce it as "mah-kah-RAHS-anna." After you come into the full posture of Salabhasana, keep your body weight on your abdominal region alone as you bend your elbows and bring your hands forward to interlock your fingers behind your head. Your palms should touch the back of your head with your thumbs and index fingers at the base of your skull.
Do not press your hands into your head because that will lead to collapsing your chest. Let your hands just have light contact with your head as you focus on lifting your elbows, your chest and your legs higher away from the floor.
Have a partner help you to stretch back and expand your chest more. Take a yoga belt and hold one end in each of your hands as you come into the pose. Then your partner should stand behind you and pull the center of the yoga belt back in the direction of your feet. This extra lift will help you arch your back more and go deeper into the pose.
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