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Locust Pose: The Complete Guide

Salabhasana effectively preps you for deeper backbends by strengthening the back of your torso, legs, and arms.


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Salabhasana (Locust Pose) is considered a beginner backbend, but the lift-and-hold action needed to lift your chest and thighs off the ground without the help of your hands and feet can feel intense. You can expect to feel both peaceful and alert at the same time, making this pose perfect to kickstart your morning practice or as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Engage your back and abdominal muscles to lift your upper torso and legs off the ground. Instead of thinking about how high you’re lifting, focus on lengthening your spine and distributing the backbend evenly through your upper, middle, and lower back. You’ll feel a stretch across your shoulders and along your neck. Strengthening your back muscles and stretching your chest will help your posture, counteracting all those hours you spend hunched over a computer.

Salabhasana is an important preparatory pose that helps you practice proper alignment before moving into more intense backbends like Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose/Upward-Facing Bow Pose). It also prepares you for inversions, arm balances, and abdominal poses like Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose).

There are several variations and modifications to work your way up to the full expression of Locust Pose, so take your time and move with your body, not against it, to reap the benefits of this pose.

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Locust Pose Basics

Sanskrit: Salabhasana (sha-la-BAHS-anna)

salabha = locust

Pose type: Backbend

Target area: Upper Body

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Benefits

Locust Pose improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting. It may help relieve lower back pain and can counteract slouching and kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine).

Other Locust Pose perks:

  • Strengthens your back muscles, especially the muscles supporting your spine and also strengthens your buttocks (glutes) and backs of thighs (hamstrings)
  • Slightly strengthens around your shoulders and upper back
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin on your belly with your feet together and your hands reaching back alongside your body, palms down.
  2. Extend your big toes straight back, and press down with all 10 toenails to activate your quadriceps.
  3. Rotate your inner thighs to the ceiling to broaden your lower back while firming your outer ankles into your midline to prevent your feet from sickling.
  4. Keeping your hands light on the mat, raise your head and chest, and roll your shoulders back and up away from the floor.
  5. Keep the back of your neck long, and emphasize lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin.
  6. Leading with your inner thighs, raise your legs.
  7. Press back with your big toe mounds to animate your inner thighs and keep your feet from sickling.
  8. Emphasize the lift of your inner thighs and your outer thighs rolling down toward the floor so your lower back is broad and spacious.
  9. Your buttocks will firm but should not grip, as this indicates that your glutes have overwhelmed your hamstrings.
  10. Prioritize the neutrality and straightness of your legs over their height.
  11. Keep rolling your shoulders back and up, reaching your chest forward and up.
  12. Hold for 5 breaths to 1 minute.
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Explore the pose

You can do this 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.

Be mindful!

Avoid or modify this pose if you have a headache or back injury. If you have a neck injury, keep your head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor or by supporting your forehead on a thickly folded blanket.

Deepen the pose

  • Advanced students can challenge themselves 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. As you lift the upper torso, head and arms, lift the knees as far away from the floor as possible.
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Locust Pose variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Half Locust Pose, upper body

Try just lifting your upper body to prepare and focus on your upper back muscles. You can bring your hands behind you and optionally interlace them. Alternatively, you can simply reach your hands back without interlacing.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Half Locust Pose, both legs

Lift only your lower body to prepare and isolate your lower back, buttocks, and thigh muscles.

Tuck your arms and hands close to and slightly under your body. You can put your chin or forehead on the floor or stack your hands under your forehead. Lift both legs. Hold for several breaths; lower slowly.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Half Locust Pose, one leg lifted

Lifting one leg at a time isolates your lower back, buttocks, and thigh muscles.

Tuck your arms and hands close to and slightly under your body. Put your chin or forehead on the floor or stack your hands under your forehead. Lift one leg at a time. Hold for several breaths on each side; lower slowly. Repeat approximately 10 times or as many as you can do comfortably.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Locust Pose isn’t as intense a backbend as some other poses, but it can still be quite challenging given the demand it places on the body. Prepare yourself with stretches for the low back, hip flexors, and quadriceps.

Preparatory poses

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Counter poses

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Your body in Locust Pose | Anatomy

At first glance, Salabhasana appears to be an easy pose. But it’s not. It requires significant flexibility and muscular effort to perform, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor.

Salabhasana strengthens the muscles that arch the back, including the erector spinae along the length of the spine, the quadratus lumborum in the lower back, the lower trapezius spanning the upper back, the gluteus maximus, and the hamstrings.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Locust Pose: Salabhasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Contract the gluteus maximus to extend the hips, lifting the femurs. At the same time, engage the hamstrings; a cue for this is to bend your knees about 10 degrees while lifting your thighs off the floor. Maintain the lift of your thighs and activate your quadriceps to straighten your knees. Tilt the pelvis back and down.

Extend your back and open your chest by contracting the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles.

Locust Pose: Salabhasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Flex your ankles to point your feet so that the soles face upward.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Backbends and Twists by Ray Long.

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Put Locust Pose into practice

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10 Yoga Poses to Help Prevent Dead Butt Syndrome

12 Poses to Transform Your Backbends


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.