In tips for teachers

During the holidays, it’s more important than ever to have some quiet time. With all of the distractions – parties, relatives, drama, presents, planning, joy, baggage – it’s easy to get swept away on a holiday rollercoaster!

This week’s pose is halasana (plow). By turning ourselves upside down and folding over, we are literally looking into ourselves. The pose helps us to pull our energy in and become more contained and centered. As in inversion, halasana encourages us to challenge our point of view and get out of sticky patterns. Its (literally!) navel-gazing properties can help us become less reactive and more grounded. How do we want to greet the new year?

Halasana is rather like dandasana – on its head. While many of us do a “soft” halasana that resembles a forward fold, the full expression of the pose more closely resembles a backbend, with the shoulder blades drawing strongly into the back, the hips reaching up into the sky, and the spine perpendicular to the floor rather than rounded.

Component parts:

Arms: extension, external rotation.

Thoracic: drawing in strongly.

Hamstrings: must be warmed up to approach the pose

Neck: cervical spine in flexion

Hips: reaching into the air

Poses for preparation:

Downward Dog: teach the reaching of the hips up toward the ceiling, lifting away from the floor.  Also, this pose will start to warm up the hamstrings, warm up the shoulders (albeit in flexion), and actually looks like halasana – in a different orientation

Backbends with the shoulders in extension: salabhasana, bridge, baby cobra, dhanurasana.  These will start to teach both the essential drawing in of the thoracic spine as well as warm up the extension of the arm at the shoulder.

Forward folds to open the hamstrings: Uttansanasa, Parsvottanasana (with arms in reverse namaste you will also treat extension of the arm), Prasarita Padottanasana B and C (wide-legged forward fold with the hands at the waist or fingers interlaced behind you).

Jalandhara Bandha (chin to chest): practice this in dandasana.  With jalandhara bandha,  you must continue to strongly lift the chest up.  Do not compromise the pose by drooping in the thoracic spine.

Teaching the pose:

I like to teach this pose with the shoulders stacked on foam blocks or on 2-3 neatly folded, thick (Mexican style) blankets.  Just as in shoulderstand, lifting the shoulders onto a support will enable you to lift more strongly through the thoracic spine, as well as protect the cervical spine from flattening. Use more support rather than less when you’re starting.

Try placing the blankets about a leg’s distance away from the wall, with the folded edges toward the center of the room.  Come onto the blankets with your head TOWARD the wall and your shoulders on the blankets/supports.  First press your upper arms down firmly into the support and tuck your shoulder blades underneath you.  Press the outer arms and palms down as you swing your legs over your head and bring them onto the wall at the same height as your hips.  (You may have to play with the distance you are from the wall until you find the right position.)  You will make an L-shape with your body.  Roll your upper arms more deeply underneath your body to facilitate the lifting of the thoracic spine.  Bring your hands to your back, as close to the floor as possible to lift the thoracic spine up and in. Press your arms down to lift the chest up.  Reach your hips straight up to the ceiling.  Press your feet into the wall and your quads to the ceiling in order to lift the hips up higher.  To the extent that is accessible, you may walk your feet down the wall towards the baseboard as far as you can without compromising the vertical lift of the hips.

Smooth out your breath.  Keep pressing your arms down in order to lift your chest and hips up.  Press the back of your head down gently to maintain the gentle curve of the cervical spine.  Breath, and turn your attention inwards.  Embrace the quiet.

To come out, keep pressing your arms down firmly as you bring your hands back to the floor and slowly begin to roll out.  Let your knees bend when your hips hit the floor.

Counterpose:

Move yourself toward the wall until your shoulders are on the floor, giving you a slight backbend.  Take a gentle spinal twist to each side.  Downdog to release the back of the neck.

Variations:

In case of neck injury or high/low blood pressure issues, you can do a modified version by doing viparita karani (legs up the wall) with a block underneath the hips.  Tuck the shoulderblades under you and lift the thoracic spine up and reach through the heels (legs together).  Another alternative is dandasana, or a restorative backbend with a bolster underneath the back and the legs extended out straight.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Laurie Schell

    Hi Rachel
    Really enjoyed working my way into halasana this morning after reading the tips on your site..I have been avoiding this asana for awhile and it is good to get back to it.
    YOu are sharing info in a great way. Last months Bakasana focus was excellent. Getting more conscious of finding and using the adductor muscles has altered my practice…the info was not new to me yet something about your description just clicked and sunk in at this time.
    Love your site. Thanks for the time and effort and sharing you are doing in this way.
    Namaste, Laurie

  • Rachel

    That is great to hear, Laurie! I’m so glad that the info is useful to your practice. Keep me posted if there are any poses that you’d like to see explored here. I’m happy to tailor! Have a great New Year. ~R

  • Eduard

    Halasana perplexes me. I can do it in the evening with ease. But in the first half of the day (even at like 3 pm!) I can do it only with some pain/discomfort, even at the end of an hour-long yoga routine. I am completely perplexed by advices to do this pose in the morning after waking up. Do you have any tips for the case such as mine? I can hardly do this pose in the morning even after warming up hamstings with Uttanasana, Janu Sirsasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, etc.

  • Rachel

    Hi Eduard! My advice would be to simply not do it in the morning. Your body will naturally tend to be stiffer in the beginning of the day rather than end of the day. Halasana is an energetically cooling pose, so doing it later in the day is not counter intuitive and can be restorative. However, the method I described in this blog for practicing halasana will be a great option for you. By putting your feet on the wall at the level of your hips rather than the floor, you take some of the hamstring restriction out of the pose and can instead work on really drawing in the thoracic. Let me know if the instructions aren’t clear, and let me know how it goes!

  • Carmen

    Hi, I have love yoga for years and have just found your site 😉 it is wonderful. I have an odd issues with the Halasana. I easily go over but end up flipping over, like an awkward backwards summersault. Can not figure this out. Any advice would be so welcomed. Thanks for site and advice if any.

  • Rachel

    Thanks for the kind words! Nice to hear from you.

    As for flipping back over in halasana, the problem may come from not lifting high up enough through your pelvis and rounding your back. Keep your hips over your shoulders actually lift your sitting bones straight up to the ceiling. It’s actually quite a bit like backbending in your back. You draw the shoulderblades into your chest, then stretch through the sides of the waist and lift the hips up. The thighs must also work; press your quads straight up into the bone of the thigh.

    You may find that you are somersaulting over to one side or another, which could be caused by imbalance in lifting through the waist. My suggestion: do halasana at the wall (your head to the wall about a legs distance away, your legs overhead and your feet ON the wall). This will help to stabilize you in the position, and then you can press your feet into the wall and lift your hips to the ceiling. You’ll also be able to sense if you’re leaning into one side or another.

    xo,
    Rachel

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