The eleventh pose in Surya Namaskar, is the backward bending pose or the hasta uttanasana.
• Posture: From the forward bend or the hasta padasana (10th pose), begin by lifting torso up along with the arms to upright position with the arms extended up overhead, and continue further into a backward bend. The palms face inwards towards each other or forwards, the elbows are extended as the shoulders move to end range of flexion with the arms outstretched throughout the motion. To add grace to movement, the shoulders may be circled (circumduction) to reach end position with upper arms slightly behind ears. This allows the shoulder blade to go through a motion from protraction to retraction and full arc of upward rotation to allow overhead position of upper extremities. In addition to the shoulder blade (scapula), and the shoulder joint, the less mentioned collar bone (clavicle), the breast bone (sternum), and the rib cage all contribute to this wonderful motion. The spine from the lumbar-sacral junction to the cervical vertebrae is in gentle flexion in forward bend and goes to neutral and then a gentle backward bend, with the spine in stable and elongated posture. The sacrum moves very little (or not at all) during this motion (from slight nutation to neutral and into counter-nutation). This is the key to permitting a uniform curve in the spine, both in end flexion and end extension posture and keeping the lumbar spine stress -free. (A sharp fold in the skin of the back indicates an unhealthy backward bend with excessive extension between a particular inter-vertebral joint, instead of a healthy uniform curve). Initially, the body weight shifts forward with the legs moving forward as a unit at the ankle joints as it translates the body forward, the pelvis tilts backwards with the hip joints extending in a close-chain movement and a counter-nutation of the sacrum( top of sacral bone moves backward and down).
• Muscles: In the bends it is essential to have good flexibility in the hip flexors for a backward bend (and the hamstrings for a forward bend). These allow the pelvis and sacrum to move freely releasing the stress on the spine. If these muscles are tight, it prevents movement of the pelvis and puts excessive strain either on the sacro-iliac joints, the spine, or both. As the dorsiflexors contract, translating the body forward as a unit, the calf muscles lengthen (eccentric contraction) to allow smooth and controlled movement. The quadriceps keep knee in extension and pull knee cap upwards to allow movement of leg as a unit. At the same time the hip extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) contract with a resulting posterior pelvic tilt. The erector spinae and quadratus lumborum bring about spinal extension with the semispinalis (also a back extensor muscle). The gluteus medius and TFL may be engaged to allow the pelvis to open and sacrum to move easily. In this case, the adductors balance the outward torque. The shoulder girdle goes through the range of motion with the help of serratus anterior and rotator cuff muscles, which stabilize the shoulder blade and shoulder joint respectively. The prime movers like the upper, middle, and lower trapezius muscles, the deltoids, and the levators complete the arc.
• Breathing: From complete exhalation in forward bend pose, slowly inhale while breathing in and expanding the chest all around at the base, mid area, and at the upper chest using the accessory muscles of breathing and filling air into the upper lobes of the lungs. Hold breath in at end of pose.
“Om Arkaya Namaha"
“I bow to Him who is fit to be worshipped”
The tenth pose in Surya Namaskar is the forward bending pose or the hasta padasana (as in the 3rd pose).
• Posture: From the ninth pose or the ashwa sanchalanasana, bring the right foot forward and next to the left foot, simultaneously as you extend or straighten the left knee, to come into standing position. The hands stay on the floor as they are, on either side, with the feet in between. When the flexibility in the posterior chain of soft tissue (the calf, the hamstrings, gluteii, latissimus dorsii, quadratus lumborum, spinal extensors and thoraco-lumbar fascia) is good, the palms of hands may rest on the floor, with the elbows in extension or even some amount of flexion. When the flexibility in the afore-mentioned soft tissue is not so good, one may need to stretch out fingers to reach the floor or perhaps is unable to reach floor. In this case, it is alright to slide hands along the front of legs as far down as possible. With increased hamstrings flexibility, the pelvis rotates forward as the hip flexes, and with sacral nutation( forward tilting of sacrum) , most flexion should occur at hip joint with the abdomen as close to the thighs as possible. The spine should be elongated. When excessive flexion occurs in the lumbar and upper thoracic spine, with a “kyphotic” T-spine, or overall curved spine(C-shaped), the hip joint is/are(one joint /both joints) not flexing much and abdomen is further from the thighs. This calls for stretching of the posterior chain of soft tissue or increasing hip flexion mobility (close-chain movement with acetabulum rotating over a stable head of femur). In case of less flexibility, one may begin with the knees in some flexion in order for hands to reach the floor, and then reverse the movement by extending the knees to stretch the posterior chain. In the final posture, the knees are straightened.
• Muscles: As the right foot comes forward, the dorsiflexors initiate this movement with the hamstrings and hip flexors contracting to lift and bend the leg and clear the ground in order to bring the right foot next to the left in one smooth, sweeping motion. Then, the quadriceps takes over to extend the knees bilaterally, to enable standing on both feet. The trunk stabilizers keep the spine stable and erector spinae elongates the spine in synchrony with the trunk stabilizers. The posterior chain as mentioned above stretches to allow uninhibited mobility into forward flexion. Hip flexors including iliopsoas, pectineus, sartorius, and rectus femoris contract to flex hip and rotate pelvis forward.
• Breathing: In the final position of the ninth or ashwa sanchalanasana, you breathe in and hold. You may begin transitioning into the 10th pose or the hasta padasana or forward bend by breathing out. In the final phase of this pose, complete exhalation is performed which allows deepening of the pose. You may stay in this pose with 2-3 breath (in and out) cycles, deepening the pose and approximating the trunk to thighs each time you exhale.
“Om Savitre namah”
“I bow to Him who produces everything”
2017 is off to a wonderful beginning. Looking forward to continuing with the posts. As always, suggestions are welcome. Lets get on with the Surya namaskar.
The ninth posture (the left leg is in front and right leg behind) in Surya namaskar is similar to the fourth, (the right leg is in front and the left leg is behind), that is the equestrian posture. This is also called the ashwa sanchalanasana.
• Posture: From the parvatasana or mountain pose, bring the left foot forward, between the hands with the left hip and knee bent as in lunge position. Extend the right leg back and plantar flex the right foot, so that the foot rests on the dorsum or top of foot (in the fourth posture, the right foot is up front and the left foot behind). Deepen the lunge and to enhance stretch in right groin this time, arch the back, while flexing the left hip as far as possible. Here the transition movement from the eighth to ninth posture is not as big as from the third to fourth and hence is relatively easier to achieve, gracefully.
• Muscles: As you lower to the floor by bending (flexing) the left leg at the hip and knee joints, the psoas, pectineus, and hip flexor synergists as well as adductors and gluteus medius /TFL (medio-lateral stability) contract to keep the bending leg knee in line with the toes. The hamstrings contract at the left knee and dorsiflexors of the foot provide continued forward flexion of the knee and ankle joints. As always, the trunk stabilizers (transverse abdominus and multifidi) keep the spine neutral during the move. The extensor muscles of the right hip- the gluteus maximus, long head of biceps femoris, and the semimembranosus and semitendinosus- work in synchrony. The quadriceps extend the right knee and the plantar flexors (gastroc-soleus) contracts so the dorsum of foot comes in contact with the ground. If the pose is further deepened through trunk extension, the erector spinae contracts, and the latissimus and lower trapezius helps depress the shoulder blades with the palms open and hands firmly on floor.
• Breathing: During the transition of posture from parvatasana to ashwa sanchalanasana, breathe in deep and long, even when you arch your back. This posture contains breathing in and out. In the final posture, chest is pushed out, arching the back, and so the anterior lobes of the lungs fill up with air in the alveoli for gaseous exchange. Breathe out as you hold the pose or transition to next posture.
“Om Adityaya Namaha”
“I bow to thee, who is God of gods.”
Happy New Year!
The eighth posture in the Suryanamaskar is the Parvatasana or the mountain pose. Also, known as adho-mukh svanasana (downward facing dog).
• Posture: Here you shift weight to the hands as you bring the pelvis off the floor first by flexing the hip and knees while the shin continues to rest on the floor. Next, dorsiflex the feet (bring the ball of feet under for weight bearing. To do this, you draw the feet towards the head, and plant the sole of the feet on the floor. Simultaneously, as you lift the knees and hips from the floor (the knees are straightened, albeit not locked or hyperextended), while the hands with palms facing floor form two of the four point support (the feet being the other two). The body makes an inverted “V” or a mountain shape with the sit- bones forming the highest point (ischial tuberosities form the “peak” of the mountain). The palms are still on the floor with fingers spread out, and elbows are extended while drawing the head between the arms, while gaze is fixed on the knees. To attain the final posture, push the heels into the floor and press into the palms through the shoulders, elongating the spine. This posture can be held for some time (1-3 minutes) and serves to even out breathing (you can do 2-3 cycles of breath in and out with holds in between).
• Muscles: This posture is an excellent opportunity to stretch the posterior leg, especially the calf, the hamstrings and to some extent the gluteus maximus muscles the latissimus dorsi, back extensors and thoraco-lumbar fascia. The very first act is to stabilize the spine for the transition from bhujangasana to parvatasana. The muscles bracing the abdomen, keeping a stable and rotation-free torso are the transversus abdominus, obliques, multifidi. The quadratus lumborum with gluteus medius stabilizes or balances the pelvis laterally, with respect to spine and the hip joint respectively. Gradually the erector spinae contracts eccentrically with concentric contraction of rectus abdominus, permitting the spine to move from extension to neutral position. At the hip, the gluteus maximus is contracted in final bhujangasana position and it relaxes as it gives way to hip flexor engagement for closed-chain hip flexion. As the feet are pulled up in a weight bearing position and later the heels are pushed downwards into the floor, the dorsiflexors contract and in a closed-chain movement, they pull the shin (tibia or lower leg) forward and down, approximating them to the top of feet(dorsal surface). At the knee, the hamstrings engage briefly as they bend during transition movement and in final position the quadriceps tighten for knee extension pulling the knee cap upwards. One should be careful so as not to hyperextend the knee. Some weight is also transmitted via the upper extremities, requiring stabilization of the shoulder blades. The rhomboids and middle trapezius as well as serratus anterior bring the shoulder blade or scapula in close contact with the rib cage for added stability and effective weight transference. The rotator cuff, specifically the infraspinatus and teres minor rotate the humerus outward to prevent impingement at shoulder joint. The triceps bring the elbows to extension, then co-contracts with elbow flexors for stability and weight transfer. The pronators align the forearm so as to allow the palm to face down into the floor for weight bearing. The interosseous muscles in the hands bring the fingers apart to increase the base of support.
• Breathing: During transition of posture from bhujangasana (cobra pose) to parvatasana (mountain pose), breathe out. Once in final position, breathe in and out several times to even out and deepen breath. In this position, the abdominal contents are pushing onto diaphragm due to gravity. At the same time, the rib cage is free and unimpeded in expansion all around. Breathe in deep and take opportunity to completely breathe out with aide from abdominal contents pushing on diaphragm effectively with less muscular engagement required.
“Om Marichay Namaha”
I bow to thee, one who possesses rays.
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.