Photo courtesy of iwillnotsuccumb
To a Yogini or Yogi, Halasana or Plow pose represents the plow by which our mental level of being is purified. Halasana calms the mind, reduces stress, and has been known to induce states of Pratyahara or retraction of the senses. The word “Pratyahara” is translated as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses” – implying retraction or withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. Before we talk about the mechanics of Halasana, it is worth looking at all the physical benefits of this pose as well:
Primary benefits – Halasana improves the tone and strength of the muscles of the back, legs, and abdomen. Through this pose, rigidity in the back and spinal column is relieved and removed, while the shoulders and spine are actively stretched. Halasana improves spinal nerve function, as well as improving the entire endocrine system through regulating the thyroid, Para-thyroid, and pituitary glands.
Secondary benefits – Halasana activates the body’s digestive system and improves the efficiency of all the abdominal organs including the liver, kidneys, spleen and pancreas. For women, the compression of the pelvic area and corresponding massage from the diaphragm through the act of breathing in this position tones and increases the efficiency of the reproductive organs. Thanks to the strengthening of the lower back and sacral area, pain during menstruation is reduced considerably if not fully relieved.
Precautionary notes – It is wise to avoid this pose during menstruation or pregnancy, or in the presence of brain disease or high blood pressure. If you are or have suffered from neck or disc problems, or an enlarged thyroid, liver or spleen, please consult with your medical practitioner first.
Holistic uses of Halasana – Halasana is an effective pose to relieve and remedy conditions such as asthma, coughs and colds, constipation, digestive dysfunction and menstrual disorders.
Preparatory asanas – Halasana should be preceded by Sarvangasana at a minimum as this pose prepares the back for performing Halasana. If you are having difficulty moving into Halasana, staying in Sarvangasana for longer period will make plough pose that much easier to accomplish and maintain. Other preparatory poses include both Viparit Karni and Ashwini Mudra. It is advisable to follow up Halasana with Matsyasana to counter-balance the Jalandhar Bandha (chin lock) which occurs as a natural function of the Halasana pose itself. If you are unfamiliar with the term “Bandha,” it can be defined as an internal ‘lock’ or closing off of part of the internal systems of the body. This ‘lock’ promotes health and healing on both physical and spiritual levels.
Beginning in Salamba Sarvangasana, exhale as you bend from the hip joints and lower your straight legs over and out past your head. Move slowly while coming into and out of this pose, keeping your torso as perpendicular to the mat as is possible while maintaining straight legs as your toes reach for the floor. With your toes on the floor, raise your tailbone towards the ceiling and pull your groin in towards your pelvis.
Depending on which is more comfortable, you may continue to press your hands into your torso as in Sarvangasana, or you may choose to gently release the hands and stretch your arms out in the opposite direction of your legs. At first, you may only feel comfortable maintaining this pose for ten to twenty seconds, but work up slowly until you are staying in Halasana for one to three or more minutes. To properly exit Halasana and avoid any injury to the neck, you should return your hands to your torso and then lift back into Sarvangasana with a controlled exhale, then roll down onto your back. (If you are having difficulty keeping your back perpendicular to the mat and the legs straight, using blankets to raise your back torso off the mat while keeping your neck and head on the mat will lessen the intensity of the asana, especially in regards to the chin-lock or Bandha that is part of this pose.)
Halasana was a pose I avoided for years at the start of my own Yoga journey. When I was younger, I spent a great deal of time bodybuilding (ego-building – sadly) and ignored stretching altogether. When this ‘trained’ lack of flexibility was then coupled with multiple physical traumas to my body at various stages in my life, my lower back became so problematic that I required surgery – Halasana was just too painful… After the surgery and the renewal of my Yoga journey, I had the opportunity to hear Iyengar speak of the importance of regularly performing this pose, and so I began to focus on making Halasana a priority. Since then, the benefits of Halasana have come almost instantly, and continue to manifest themselves daily. Now, maintaining Halasana for three to five minutes towards the end of my Yoga sessions is an integral part of my workout. My lower back stiffness and tightness has all but disappeared, and I have noticed a definite increase in flexibility through all poses requiring flexion from the hips.
From a meditative and less physical point of view, Halasana is an excellent pose to perform prior to meditating. In my own experience, I typically perform my Yoga and then meditate after lying in Savasana. Halasana performed near the end of my routine has improved my meditative experience through both comfort of posture and back while meditating as well as the calming influence this pose has on the mind. The affects of Halasana on sensory input have allowed my meditative sessions to achieve greater depth and stillness with less conscious effort since making this pose a daily must.
Peace to you, my friends…Time to plow the field of my consciousness again!