As we move into the month of September, the SATTVA School of Yoga will shift the attention from the perspective of Strength (the innermost central line of the body) and move towards more anterior lines that stem from the Front Body. The Front Body lines of awareness are expressed through two separate lines. The first line starts right from the tops of each one of the toes and travels up through the front of the shin, quadriceps, and abdomen, all the way to the chest. From the chest, the line will make a mere perpendicular turn and travel down the front of the arms highlighting the bicep area while continuing through the forearm (palm side up) to finish at the tips of each one of the fingers. This line, quite literally, connects right toes to right fingers and left toes to left fingers. The second Front Body line extends from the front of the perineum, heading straight up through the abdominals, through the breast bone, up the throat and finishes at the crown of the head.
Each month the “All Levels” sequences are designed and formulated by Rameen Peyrow to be very specific and beneficial for all practitioners. The sequence this month consists of sun salutations, a standing/ seated series of postures and finishes off with the infamous backbends and inversions. This month Rameen has placed these asana's (postures) in a particular order to connect and build the front body lines throughout the sequence. With each posture building upon the next, the sequence provides an opportunity to explore the more advanced postures with a warm and open body. One of those postures that we would like to highlight this month is Ustrasana. Ustrasana (oosh-TRAHS-ana) translated from Sanskrit is “Camel Pose”. Camel pose is a deep backbend that demands a strong expression from the front body and is found later in this month’s Front Body sequence.
While it is imperative to listen to the cues of your SATTVA teacher to move into this pose, here are some steps you can consider in your next class or home practice:
1. Start by sitting onto the heels with the toes untucked and the spine as straight as you can make it. While here, take a moment to consider the pressure that is being applied to the front of the legs into the mat. We want this same tenacity to be present as you move deeper.
Front Body parts Working: Tops of Feet, Shins, Quadriceps
2. Come up off of the heels, standing on the knees that are hip distance or just wider apart, legs are separated and pointing straight back to the wall behind you and the hands come to the lower back, just above the glutes. If this is too much pressure on the knees, you may consider doubling up your mat or placing a small blanket or cushion underneath.
Front Body Working: Tops of Feet, Shins, Abdomen
3. If this feels fine, you can begin to press the hands into the the hips, bringing the hips forward towards the front of the room while drawing the elbows closer to one another. Lift the chest straight up towards the ceiling. If this feels fine you can begin to rainbow the chest (up and then back) first and tilt the head back slightly. As you lean back, it is crucial to remind yourself of the pressing motion of the shins and feet into the mat that you discovered at the beginning of the posture. You want this part of the legs to act as a stabilizing mechanism to allow a deeper expression of the front body without compressing the spine. The stability will feel as if your legs are acting as the back leg of a photo frame- unwavering in its dedication to stability. NOTE: A good place to stop leaning back is the point where the breath becomes shallow. This is the body’s natural way of telling you that you have gone deep enough.
Front Body Working: Tops of Feet, Shins, Quadriceps, Groin, Abdomen, Biceps, Throat
4. If this ground work has been completed and the body feels able and willing, you may want to consider taking the hands from the lower back and lowering them down to contact and hold the heels of the feet. Be sure to continue to press the pelvis forward and draw the lower belly into the spine as you make this connection. This stacking and engagement of the abdomen provides a safe and supported bending of the spine. This full variation hits a pinnacle expression of the front body and closes the circuit that is created from the tops of the feet, to the tops of the hands. Once the hands have made contact with the feet, it is important to continue widening from the chest and externally rotating the shoulders. As mentioned before, this extended line starts from the chest and finishes at the fingers. If we create a tightening in the chest, we will be unable to feel the expansive expression that takes place in this posture.
Front Body Working: Tops of feet, Shins, Quadriceps, Groin, Psoas Major, Abdomen, Pectoralis Major/Minor, Biceps, throat.
5. BREATHE. The in and out breath holds a significance in every posture. It is important that when the breath becomes shallow, we breathe with that much more vitality. Each inhale creating space and each exhale moving into that space.
For this posture it is more than just creating space within the spine and the front body, it is about creating trust within the mind. Ustrasana challenges our nervous system by slowly eradicating the sensation of fear that is comes when the head falls behind us. By a steady practice and a dynamic concentrated breathing rhythm in this posture, we are not only making headway in the opening of the tissue, we are making headway in our mental health. With proper alignment and integration, ustrasana is the perfect pose to begin to conquer your fears of back bending and slowly but surely, conquer the everyday fears that exist outside your mat.
Be sure to try these alignment cues during your next practice and indulge yourself in the newly designed Front Body Sequence.
Written by Andre Arsenault