Grouped among the so-called “baby backbends,” which includes Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Sea Monster Pose (described in the Variations section below), it is an unassuming pose that, like other seemingly simple poses, is actually a lot more interesting and challenging than it appears at first glance.
salabha = grasshopper, locust
Step by Step
For this pose you might want to pad the floor below your pelvis and ribs with a folded blanket. Lie on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes toward each other to inwardly rotate your thighs, and firm your buttocks so your coccyx presses toward your pubis.
Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. You’ll be resting on your lower ribs, belly, and front pelvis. Firm your buttocks and reach strongly through your legs, first through the heels to lengthen the back legs, then through the bases of the big toes. Keep the big toes turned toward each other.
Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips. Imagine there’s a weight pressing down on the backs of the upper arms, and push up toward the ceiling against this resistance. Press your scapulas firmly into your back.
Gaze forward or slightly upward, being careful not to jut your chin forward and crunch the back of your neck. Keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long.
Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation. Take a few breaths and repeat 1 or 2 times more if you like.
- Hamstrings and calves
- Lower back
- Upper back
- Upper arms
- Lower-back pain
- Strengthens the muscles of the spine, buttocks, and backs of the arms and legs
- Stretches the shoulders, chest, belly, and thighs
- Improves posture
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Helps relieve stress
Contraindications and Cautions
- Serious back injury
- Students with neck injuries should keep their head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor; they might also support the forehead on a thickly folded blanket.
Beginners sometimes have difficulty sustaining the lift of the torso and legs in this pose. Begin the pose with your hands resting on the floor, a little bit back from the shoulders, closer to your waist. Inhale and gently push your hands against the floor to help lift the upper torso. Then keep the hands in place as you do the pose, or after a few breaths, once you’ve established the lift of the chest, swing them back into the position described above in step 3. As for the legs, you can do the pose with the legs lifted alternately off the floor. For example, if you want to hold the pose for a total of 1 minute, first lift the right leg off the floor for 30 seconds, then the left leg for 30 seconds.
A challenging variation of Salabhasana is called Makarasana (mah-KAH-rah = often translated as "crocodile" or "dolphin," but literally "sea monster"). The legs are raised in this pose exactly as in Salabhasana, but the fingers are clasped and then the palms are pressed against the back of the head, with the index fingers hooked up underneath the base of the skull. With the upper torso lifted, open the arms out to your sides.
Modifications and Props
Beginners sometimes have difficulty holding this pose. You can support the area around your lower sternum with a rolled-up blanket to help maintain the lift of your upper torso. Similarly you can support the front of your thighs with a blanket roll to help support the lift of your legs.
A partner can help you get a feel for the work in the back of the upper arms. Have your partner stand straddling your torso while you perform the pose. He should then lean forward and press his hands firmly against the backs of your upper arms (triceps). You then push up against this resistance. The partner might also, as he’s pressing down on the upper arms, draw the skin away from the shoulders, toward your wrists.
Deepen The Pose
Advanced students can challenge themselves a bit more with a variation of Salabhasana. Instead of stretching the legs straight back from the pelvis, bend the knees and position the shins perpendicular to the floor. Then, as you lift the upper torso, head and arms, lift the knees as far away from the floor as possible.