Benefits Strengthens your abdominals, back, wrists, and hands; improves posture
Kneel with your feet touching and your toes curled under. Try to keep your ankles together. Separate your knees until they’re about shoulder-width apart, keeping your feet together. Deeply round your back, and tuck your chin into your chest. Place your hands flat on the floor between your knees with fingers spread wide, pointing back toward your feet. Gently place the top of your head on the floor.
Gaze back at your feet, which will ensure that your head is in the correct position. Walk your feet back until your legs are straight. Take your belly onto your elbows. Keep your elbows as close to your pubis as possible, which is crucial to create the right fulcrum point when it’s time to take your feet from the floor. The closer your elbows are to the center of your body, the easier it will be to raise your legs and balance.
Lift your head off the floor, allowing your gaze to move from your toes, slowly tracking forward until you are looking straight down at the floor (directly beneath your face). Now, take your gaze a couple of inches farther ahead. Your gaze should be slightly ahead of your face with your chin gently lifted (do not crane your neck).
Begin to shift your weight forward onto your hands by pushing gently and slowly with the balls of your feet and your toes. As your feet begin to lift off the floor, start raising your head and shoulders slightly. When enough weight has shifted forward and your abdominals and your back muscles are engaged, you’ll reach a tipping point where your feet will lift from the floor.
As your weight transfers onto your hands, keep your elbows close together and tucked up under your body. This is your balance point and the fulcrum of this asana. To avoid undue strain on your wrists, shift your upper body forward—far enough that your elbows are slightly ahead of your wrists. Your feet should still be touching as you draw in your inner legs. This drawing-in action will add extra stability.
Just as in Shalabhasana, elongate your body by reaching your head in front of you and extending your toes back behind you. If possible, keep your legs and torso on an even plane so that your entire body is parallel to the earth. Use your lower arms like the central support of a seesaw. Some people like to take their legs high into the air when doing this asana. This is a valid approach, but it creates a different dynamic. Keeping your body parallel to the floor requires a bit more control and strength, and when you capture it just right, you’ll feel the integrity of opposing forces. Hold for a couple of breaths, adding more as you progress. To exit, lower your feet to the floor. Bend your knees and place them on the floor. Tuck your chin, round your back, sit up, and smile!
As with most asana, it takes time to build endurance. Keep your elbows close together, otherwise your torso will slide onto the floor between your forearms. Don’t hurry! It is fine to remain anywhere in the various stages of entry and try again another day. Your breath is the greatest indicator that you are safe in an asana. If you’re restricting, holding, or forcing your breath, it’s time to exit the pose and try again later.
About Our Pro Teacher and model David Swenson began teaching yoga in 1972 and today is recognized as one of the world’s foremost instructors of Ashtanga Yoga. He is one of a handful of people worldwide who has learned the entire Ashtanga system as originally taught by K. Pattabhi Jois. Swenson has produced eight Ashtanga Yoga DVDs and is the author of Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual, which has been translated into 14 languages.