Adho mukha virasana (downward facing hero pose) is a versatile pose that can be used in a variety of ways throughout a yoga sequence. It is an excellent counterpose following chest opening asanas. In addition, it can also be used as a recovery position throughout a challenging sequence. Therapeutic applications include releasing the spine, helping to alleviate lower back pain, and shoulder opening.
People with stiffer bodies can experience the sensation of spine lengthening that will eventually evolve with forward bends whilst practicing adho mukha virasana. As the pose creates space in the spine (particularly the lumbar spine) without coming up against any potential resistance from tight hamstrings. It is a good position for providing proprioceptive feedback and fostering awareness of the front and the back of the spine and whether they are even in length. Whilst practicing this pose it is Important that you anchor your hips. You need to go backwards in order to go forwards. As you continue in the pose there should be a balance between keeping your hips anchored and moving your chest and spine forwards.
Adho mukha virasana has many benefits. These include lower back release, mental and physical relaxation, spine lengthening, groin release, shoulder opening, improved knee, ankle and foot mobility.
The standard pose has many benefits. However there are also a number of variations that provide a slightly different focus with varying physical effects as a result. They can be used therapeutically to foster spine, shoulder and lateral body mobility and release.
Adho Mukha Virasana (With Chair)
This pose can create traction through your shoulder region. The sense of having your arms pulled away from your torso is similar to the experience of hanging from a bar, and might give relief to anyone working with scar tissue in and around the shoulder sockets. It is important that your fingers are firmly gripping the top of the chair as your pelvis is consciously brought backwards and downwards.
- Kneel with you big toes together and your knees apart.
- The distance between your knees is roughly the width of your rib cage.
- Ensure that your pelvis can rest directly onto your heels. If this is not possible then place a rolled or folded blanket between your hips and heels.
- Have the front of the chair facing you, and position the chair roughly a yoga block length away from your knees.
- Lean forwards and rest your chin onto the seat of the chair.
- Reach and hold the back frame of the chair with both hands.
- Start to walk your hands up the frame of the chair.
- Work to your capacity, but know that it is possible to eventually bring your hands all the way to the top of the chair with your hands touching.
- Grip the top of the chair firmly with your fingers.
- Maintaining this firm hand grip, bring your hips back and down towards your heels.
- To avoid dipping the lower back, draw your navel back towards your spine. This will ensure that the emphasis of the pose is experienced more in your shoulder region.
Adho Mukha Virasana (With Chair, Arms Back)
This pose can directly proceed from the previous pose. It can feel spacious and comfortable for your neck so long as your upper thoracic spine is contained inwards and your trapezius muscle (where your neck and upper back join) is kept downwards.
- Keeping your chin on the seat of the chair, bring your arms behind your back and interlock your fingers.
- Roll your shoulders back and draw you arms down and away from your neck.
- Consciously firm your triceps muscles to make your elbows more actively straight.
- Pressing your shoulder blades firmly into your back, start to raise your arms up and back.
- As your arms raise upwards move your thoracic spine inwards and trapezius muscle downwards.
Parsva Adho Mukha Virasana
The chair remains in the same position as it was for the previous pose. A twisting action is now added to the torso. This enables you to further open your shoulders and lengthen the latissimus muscles on the sides of the rib cage.
- Bring your right hand off the cross bar of the chair and place this hand alongside your right knee. Press this hand firmly to the floor with the elbow of this arm pointing up to the ceiling.
- Slide your left hand across to the right side of the chair.
- Ensure that you are maintaining a straight line from your left hand back to your left hip socket.
- To maintain this straight line, move your left side ribs towards your spine, and your right side ribs away from your spine.
- Turn your abdomen from the left towards the right side.
- Press your left hand down; lift your left elbow up; and turn your left outer armpit towards the floor.
- turn the left side of your spine towards the floor; turn the right side of your spine away from the floor.
Adho Mukha Virasana (Hands On Cross Bar Of Chair)
The shoulder opening benefits of this pose will come best if you maintain a balanced lower back position. Without hardening the abdominal region, check that your navel lifts slightly towards the spine. Keep your tailbone drawing back and down. Again, this pose can proceed directly from the previous pose without the need for standing up.
- Move the chair further away from your knees.
- Place your hands on the cross bar between the front legs of the chair. (if your chair does not have a cross bar use the seat of the chair instead)
- Rather than clasping the bar, position your hands so that your palms can press flat onto the cross bar. Ensure that the base of your index finger can press firmly into the bar.
- Spread your fingers wide apart and press your hands down to lift your elbows up.
- Without dropping your elbows turn your outer armpits downwards so that your shoulders spread out and away from your neck.
- Avoid dropping your head. Instead keep your ears aligned with your upper arms. This will ensure that your upper chest remains more open.
- Keeping your hips firmly anchored to your heels, apply both a downward and outward pressure with your hands onto the chair.
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