Halasana - how navigating plow pose led to growth May 12 2015, 1 Comment
It is easy in life --and in asana practice-- to remain where we are comfortable, with what is familiar and secure. There is however a tremendous opportunity for growth when we meet ourselves where we are uncomfortable, unfamiliar and insecure.
I’ve discovered this on a personal level many times since I began practicing yoga more than a decade ago. It is a conscious choice I make to meet myself in the unknown. My teachers have taught me how to listen to my body and breath to help navigate challenging terrain safely, with the intention to transform it.
One pose that has always challenged me is Halasana, plow pose.
Although classified as a basic inverted pose, the elements at play --particularly hip flexion, spinal flexion and external rotation of the shoulders-- have challenged me with feeling really comfortable in my body and breath. I used to be hung up on achieving the “perfect form” (which to me meant that while I was in Halasana my toes were on the floor). But my back always rounded, my elbows would splay apart, and my breath would get super choppy -- all red flags for safety. I’ve since learned that with a little support from yoga props I could move safely into the uncomfortable place Halasna was inviting me to explore.
When we did the photo shoot with chattra props, I was so excited to discover that zafus make excellent support for the feet in Halasana! The best part is you can personalize the height by stacking more or fewer cushions to find just the right entry point for your body.
I invite you to explore plow pose for yourself and offer some guidance based on what I’ve learned on my journey. Enjoy!
Before you begin: Honestly reflect on if your body is ready for Halasana. Consider skipping Halasana if you have any neck, shoulder or low back injuries, glaucoma, high blood pressure or are on your moon cycle.
Be prepared: I like to use two zafus beneath my feet, and often use a strap around my upper arms, and one folded blanket beneath my shoulders and neck. Decide what props are suitable for your body and have them near by.
To begin: Start by warming up the shoulders, hips, hamstrings and spine with postures such as cat/cow, downward dog, cobra, low lunge and shalabasana.
Once you are warm: Begin by lying on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor, arms by your side with palms on the floor, and your neck in a natural curve. Draw your knees (with bent legs) into your chest. Press your arms down and lift your hips over your shoulders; your legs should remain bent. Place your hands on your upper back with your elbows shoulder-width apart and fingers pointed toward the pelvis. Extend your legs and bring them overhead with your feet lowered to your support (such as a zafu, blanket, bolster). Tuck your toes under, placing them on the zafu. Find a place to work where you are safely challenged - meaning the spine is long and extended, the legs are straight, and your neck is not compressed. Your breath should be smooth and steady.
As you hold Halasana: Breathe. Try a four count inhale and four count exhale. If that feels too long then you can do three or two counts but do keep the breath even from side to side. Breathing can be extra challenging in this pose. If your breath gets really choppy or stops, consider adjusting the shape to a place where you can connect with smooth, steady breath.
Work your pose from the ground up. Press the elbows down. Draw your shoulder blades together. Wrap the outer upper arms toward the floor. Keep the throat soft. Lengthen the torso. Straighten the legs.
Stay for 6-12 breaths as you continue to explore Halasana.
Jillian is a yogini based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She leads weekly public yoga classes for adults and specializes in yoga for kids and families. Her studies have led her to complete trainings at YogaWorks, Karma Kids and Yoga Playgrounds. Jillian feels blessed to practice and teach yoga and is particularly passionate about empowering her students with tools to navigate the modern world with ease.
Jillian is practicing Halasana using chattra zafus in Plum Bagh and Navy Monsoon block print; chattra zafus are hand-crafted in India using traditional textile techniques and filled in the USA with clean buckwheat hulls.