1.13.2011

Asana of the Week: Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose is a gentle backbend excellent for lengthening the abdominal muscles and warming the spine in preparation for more active backbending.  My favorite way to practice this pose is as a counter pose to difficult standing or arm balancing sequences in which the core is worked strongly.  Sphinx Pose gently releases the work of the abdomen and opens the chest while strengthening the muscles of the upper back.

While it may appear to be quite tame, the Sphinx is an active pose.  The toes curl back and the quadriceps lift the kneecaps.  The serratus anterior engage to draw the shoulderblades down the back.  The triceps contract to press the palms down and latissimus dorsi work to draw the heads of the armbones back.  These actions lift the heart, which, coupled with the extension of the tailbone toward the heels, creates an active lengthening of the rectus abdominus.

Sphinx Pose (for which I could not find a Sanskrit name; I suspect it's a modern and/or Western modification of Bhujangasana) is a great place to catch your breath and release after intense core work, but the pose must be activated in order for the subtle benefits to become clear.  The mild backbend awakens the upper back and increases awareness in the thoracic spine.  Continual lifting of the heart and softening of the space between the shoulderblades begins to create a gentle bend in the upper back which is important to develop before attempting deeper backbends, such as Dhanurasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana, in order to avoid creating stress in the low back.
Sphinx Pose Sequence:  This backbending sequence builds the foundation for Ustrasana by first strengthening the thighs and abdominals, then slowly preparing the muscles of the back with increasingly powerful heart openers.  The shoulders also get a nice stretch as a counter to Bakasana.  Rest the head on the forearms between steps 5, 6, and 7.  Hold each pose for 5-6 breaths.
  1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
  2. Utkasana (Chair Pose)
  3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  4. Bakasana (Crane Pose)
  5. Sphinx Pose
  6. Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose) - Do both sides.  Rest between sides if needed.
  7. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
  8. Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  9. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
  10. Balasana (Child's Pose)

9 comments:

  1. I love this pose after doing several rounds of dolphin to dolphin plank. I love the way you break down each asana of the week.

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  2. Liveloveyoga - Ditto. It's such a sweet release to drop the pelvis down to the mat in Sphinx after a long hold in a Dolphin plank.

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  3. I never realized how much work you actually do in Sphinx, and how beneficial. Thanks!

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  4. Awesome pose! One of the things I have noticed is that the more I practice, the simple poses don't become easier - they become harder as I become more aware of how to fully engage in them. I like to put sphinx after boat pose in my classes because so many people, no matter how aware they are, (myself included) put strain on their backs trying to hold boat.

    All that's missing is that cat-like look of superiority... ;)

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  5. Samaya Kingdom - My pleasure! I think I often learn as much from these posts as my readers do.

    La Gitane - So true. As awareness grows with the practice, seemingly simple poses have a way of opening up to progressively more subtle layers of action.

    Ha! Yes, do you instruct your students to assume an air of smugness when you teach this pose?

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  6. Hi Megan,
    I have started to do your sphinx pose. It is really helpful in doing power back bends. It really sets up the spinal chord for more. I wanted to know that while doing the original version of Bhujangasan will the quadriceps lift the kneecaps ?

    Regards
    CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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  7. Hi Megan,

    Found out a name for this - Salamba Bhujangasan. Is it appropriate?

    Regards
    CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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    Replies
    1. You are most welcome Megan.You are an inspiration.

      Regards
      CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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