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Restoring Neck and Shoulder Ease through Supta Virasana Variations

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I’m fascinated by cultures where heavy loads are carried effortlessly by the crown of the head, by a well aligned crown. Like the ancient Egyptian water carriers, these loads can be carried for miles in this manner. The typical westerner, sitting at a desk or in their car most of the day, bent over their electronics, might even think this would be a terrible practice for the neck and shoulders. I disagree.

Could you do this for miles?

Could you do this for miles?

What about carrying this for a few miles?

What about carrying this for a few miles?

The common postural dysfunction in our culture is not only forward head and shoulders, but habitually flexed hips! Remember my recent post on Lower Crossed Syndrome? https://wordpress.com/post/60000531/911/

Lower crossed Syndrome

Lower crossed Syndrome

If I want to find ease in opening the chest and shoulders that is sustainable and authentic, I will have to soften and open the guarding belly as well as the anterior hips. Through working with the low belly and hips, we create a balanced and stable base upon which the upper body balances beautifully.Your hamstrings will thank you as they will no longer have to fight to hold your pelvis upright.

 

 

 

 

The upper body is not independent of the lower body! There is an interdependence of the whole of you! Because of that, finding my way to Supta Virasana is a gentle process of opening that can easily take 15 minutes.

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It’s the postural antithesis to how we are positioned most of the day. Without that ease, you can understand why it is one of the most avoided asanas in Yoga and why people hurt themselves attempting this without adequate time and intention. People come up with all kinds of reasons to avoid it. ” My knees don’t do that.” ” It hurts my back”. Here’s how Supta Virasana can become your best friend. Allow 15 minutes.

1. Center Yourself for 5 minutes:

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2. The open back chair is your friend. As you position yourself, you are gently lifting the lower ribs onto the blanket so when the hips ease into the block you are sitting on, there is some traction instead of compression. Heels UP. Tops of feet press into the floor. 2 minutes.

Sitting on a block. My head resting comfortably on block.

Sitting on a block. My head resting comfortably on block.

Chair set up- lower block for sitting, upper block is to support your head ( note my chin is not up,in the air!

Chair set up- lower block for sitting, upper block is to support your head.

Threading arms through the back of the chair, palms facing each other as if holding a ball over head.

Threading arms through the back of the chair, palms facing each other as if holding a ball over head.

3. Counter pose after each variation. This is vital to the prevention of injury. In Prasarita Padottanasana, I can position a block or 2 for my elbows to reach into. I’m spinning my thighs to the wall behind me and the feet are parallel to the short edges of my mat. Spine is long. 30 seconds

Take this same counter pose after each progression.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Fold) Take this same counter pose after each progression.

4. Progression #2: Use all props and deepen slowly. Be sure to strap the knees together. This adds boundary and safety to the shape, reducing any resistance in the body. With each deepening, if the shape doesn’t feel restorative, the variation is too deep for you at this time.

I have lifted my lower ribs onto the lower block. The upper block is fully supporting my head. The blankets are supporting the opening of my chest so I am not hanging in space.

I have lifted my lower ribs onto the lower block. The upper block is fully supporting my head. The blankets are supporting the opening of my chest so I am not hanging in space.

Set up for Supta Vira #2

1 strap, 2 blocks, 1 bolster, 3 folded blankets (1 under the head of the bolster)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Counter pose again for 30sec.(same as #3)

6. Progression #3: My hips are no longer on a block. I have moved the calf flesh away from behind my knees and I have secured a block between my thighs with the strap so my inner thighs can spiral down toward the ground. The heels remain UP. This wider leg variation gives greater space at the sacroiliac joints. Stay 2 minutes with your ujayi breath, switching the hold on the elbows after 1 minute.

1 strap, 1 block, 1 bolster, 1 folded blanket.

1 strap, 1 block, 1 bolster, 1 folded blanket.

7. Counterpose again 30 sec. (same as #3 or deeper)

8. Twist with props: Inhale to elongate the spine first and exhale keeping that length into the twist. 30 seconds on each side.

2 blocks. If you have weakness in the legs or are unable to stand, you may strap the blocks in place prior to twisting.

2 blocks. If you have weakness in the legs or are unable to stand, you may strap the blocks in place prior to twisting.

9. Restore: 5 minutes

1 strap holds the legs together above the knees, 1 bolster, 1 blanket

1 strap holds the legs together above the knees, 1 bolster, 1 blanket

The effect is well worth the time spent mindfully exploring Supta Virasana. By opening the psoas, rectus femoris and the low belly in this way, we are creating a balanced pelvis. This naturally brings ease and balance not only to the upper body and neck, but this more balanced position of the pelvis creates a spacious, natural position of the femoral head in the acetabulum (hip socket) thus reducing anterior shearing caused by tightness in the iliopsoas. These backward bends are invigorating and deliver a beautiful feeling of bliss and well being when done slowly and mindfully. There really IS a comfortable and safe Supta Virasana for you, your knees and your back.