Align: Sasangasana

Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose) is a kneeling forward bend which rounds the back as much as possible to lengthen the spine and create space in the thoracic region of the back.

Function of the Pose

Lengthening the Spine

Sasangasana lengthens the spine from head to tail, stretching the erector muscles that lie parallel to the spine, relieving pressure on intervertebral discs, and creating more space for circulation of nutrients and nervous system function.

Expanding the Thoracic

Deep breathing in this pose expands the rib cage, lengthening the muscles across the back and between the ribs.  This helps to improve the strength and elasticity of the accessory muscles to breathing so that the body can receive deeper breaths and expel them more completely.

Finding the Pose

  1. Begin seated on the heels in vajrasana (thunderbolt pose).  Sit on a block or blanket between the heels as needed.
  2. Gently tuck the chin in and up to lengthen cervical spine.
  3. Practice a few breaths here, feeling the lift of the upper abdomen toward the ribcage with every exhale.  Use this drawing in and up of the abdomen to round the spine as you begin to lean forward.
  4. As you round forward, lift your hips away from your heels and grasp your hands with your heels.  You will reach the hands behind you with thumbs pointed up and palms out, then turn the hands down to grasp the heels--thumbs will be on the outside of the foot and fingers on the inside.
  5. Lift your hips higher as you round your spine against the brace of your arms, using your breath to lift the space between the shoulderblades upward and to press your lower back backward.

Tips & Modifications

  • The top of your head may or may not reach the floor as you round forward.  If it does, there should be little to no pressure on the head, and no sensation of compression in the neck.  Keep in mind that this pose is about lengthening--you will receive more benefit from the pose by focusing on lifting upward.
  • Keep the shoulders drawn down the back, away from the head, so that the neck has more space.  The action of drawing the shoulderblades down the back also improves the rounding of the upper spine.
  • If you are unable to reach your heels, place a towel or strap under your feet to hold on to.

Benefits

  • Compressing the abdomen, improves digestive and respiratory function, and initiates a relaxation response.  Sasangasana is a rather exaggerated forward bend, as students are encouraged to draw the belly up and inward to round the spine more.
  • Tucking the chin in and up while lengthening the cervical spine places pressure on the thyroid and parathyroid glands which lie in the center of the neck.  Both glands help to regulate the availability and expression of energy within the body, and the application of pressure to them is thought to improve their function.

Contraindications

  • Recent injury to or surgery on the knees, hips, spine or shoulders.
  • General contraindications to inversions include eye injury (retinal detachment, glaucoma, etc.), and heart or nervous system disorders (such as stroke or epilepsy).
  • Sasangasana might feel excellent during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but it will likely become uncomfortable to round the spine as the baby grows larger during the third trimester.  As with all yoga during pregnancy or menstruation, enter the pose slowly and with awareness so that you can respond safely.

Sequencing Tips

Sasangasana is usually taught as the counterpose for ustrasana (camel pose).  It is usually done near the end of a practice because it flexes the spine so dramatically.  Good postures to do immediately after sansangasana include balasana (child's pose) and vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) with some breathing.