| Simon Bradley | Mars 2019 |
Corpse Posture (Savasana)
Modern living can be brutal on our bodies! Before we invented the chair and the sofa, we would squat or sit cross legged on the ground, and these natural positions for the body at ground level are in fact our body’s natural preference over sitting in chairs, car, train and plane seats – which are often uncomfortable and problematic for our spines.
Similarly lying down and sleeping is more than likely a very different scenario in our modern lives compared to the way we used to sleep in older times, and before we invented the modern mattress in all its vast array of materials, textures and technologies. Food for thought: when our body is lying supine (on our back) on a flat solid surface (the floor), the points of contact that our body makes with the ground distribute the forces of gravity evenly throughout the body, and this in fact creates the least amount of intervertebral pressure in our spine.
This is in fact the position adopted in the yoga posture (pictured above), Savasana in the ancient Sanskrit language of yoga, or the Corpse Posture in its Western translation. It is a posture that is nearly always used to conclude a yoga class, but can also feature at the start of a class as well, and sometimes partway through classes and even between other more active postures too as a form of recovery. It is also a form of relaxation and can often be called that instead of by its Sanskrit name, when a teacher will often signal and refer to it as moving into “our Final Relaxation”.
Savasana can often be challenging for beginners and those new to yoga, and it can also be challenging for a teacher to persuade newer students to persist and even stay for this final segment of a class, but it is an important element of any yoga practice.
It completes the cycle the body is taken through, from the moment a class begins in a neutral or inactive state, through the various postures and sequences, and then returning to a neutral, inactive and relaxed resting state. The more it is practiced, the more most students start to appreciate Savasana. As a teacher I have had more than one request to reverse the usual order of proceedings to instead practice 5 minutes of the dynamic postures and exercises that form the main body of my class, and then to do Savasana for the remaining 55 or even 85 minutes of the class!!
Mountain Posture (Tadasana)
Another concern in modern living is the way various factors affect and challenge our posture. We sit behind desks and other workstations and positions for long periods of time. We watch TV and viewing screens from couches and sofas for similarly long periods. And we also often carry bags over our shoulders or across our back to and from work or school, and again often for long periods of time (even young children carry various books and pens and papers in heavy backpacks to and from school!).
Worse still, even a backpack designed to go across both shoulders will often end up on one shoulder, and we often favour one shoulder over the other, not even realising we rarely if ever use the other one. (In the photo above, the photographer and I tried to create a “before and after” of the Mountain Posture, and while surprisingly difficult to adopt a slightly “slouched” version of how I normally stand, what I didn’t anticipate is how uneven my own shoulders would look in the shot, and that element really wasn’t deliberate! I said to her “people who know me will know that’s not quite how I stand”, but I didn’t realise it would in fact reveal, albeit a slightly exaggerated version of, a difference in my own natural shoulder position.)
The Mountain Posture, or Tadasana, is often used to set the body up for other postures, or to introduce a sequence of linked postures or “asanas”, for example a “Sun Salutation” or Vinyasa sequence.
It is done in an upright standing position, with arms down beside the body, feet together and palms facing either inwards or alternatively forwards. First breath in and then on a breath out simultaneously tilt the pelvis backwards, lift the rib cage and crown of the head upwards while at the same time extending downwards towards the ground with the fingertips.
While providing a foundation for many, if not all, standing postures, Tadasana is a great posture in its own right and can be done on its own and held for a while, and as can be seen in the above comparison it is also a fantastic posture to improve posture!
The Lat Pulldown is a great weight-training exercise to strengthen and condition the muscles of the back and to counteract some of the habits of modern living that have already been mentioned above, and especially the carrying of backpacks and bags over our shoulders.
The exercise is named after the primary group of muscles it works, which are the Latissimus Dorsi muscles, or “Lats” (hence the name “Lat” Pulldown). These muscles are some of the largest in the back and wrap around the mid to upper back and when “flexed” can almost appear like a set of “wings” under the arms, giving our upper body a “tapered” shape.
Most weight-training exercises are named after the muscles they work, even though certain joints and bones will be moving too. So even though the shoulder joint is involved in a Lat Pulldown, and benefits therefore derived for those with shoulder mobility issues, the exercise is still primarily a “Back Exercise” because this is the muscle it is designed to target and strengthen. (In fact you can’t really strengthen bones or joints “per se”. It is the muscles involved that are, through the application of “progressive resistance” or an ever-increasing workload, being strengthened).
The main and largest muscle worked in the Lat Pulldown is the Latissimus Dorsi or back muscles, but alongside this primary target, it does also work “secondary” groups of muscles as well. So the muscles at the rear of the shoulders (or rear “deltoid muscles”) are being strengthened, along with the bicep muscles of the arms.
The Lat Pulldown would be incorporated into a weight-training routine designed to strengthen the whole body, consisting of other exercises for each body-part, and done on a regular basis at certain intervals to best strengthen and improve overall fitness.
Fish Posture (Matsyasana)
The Fish Posture is a beautiful way of increasing flexibility in the upper body, shoulders and neck. It takes our upper spine and neck in a direction it doesn’t often travel and also in the opposite shape to that which we often adopt when sitting behind a desk or carrying a bag on our back or across our shoulders. In our modern lives and work we often have a tendency to slouch at the shoulders and extend our head and neck in a forward position. The Fish Posture addresses this.
The above image shows a classical Matsyasana posture. It can be done in this way with elbows either next to and outside the body (pictured), or alternatively with elbows and forearms together and underneath the backside of the body. The effect is similar, and so if it is difficult to bring elbows right underneath, then choose this version with elbows outside.
From a supine lying position, arms either underneath or to the sides, breath in first and then on a breath out, lift the rib cage and torso upwards letting the head slide underneath. Depending on individual flexibility either the back of the head or the crown will remain lightly touching the ground. It is important not to “rest” your full weight on the head, instead supporting the posture with, and pushing downwards into, the elbows and forearms. The posture can be done with legs straight or bent.
Another version of the Fish Posture, pictured above, is to place a yoga “Brick” flat and length-ways between the shoulder blades and rest the head back onto either the floor, or if too strong for the neck, then onto a flat yoga foam block.
This version of the posture can be used either as a modification or alternative to the traditional version, but also as a variation in its own right. It is often done in a Yin Yoga class where postures are held for a number of minutes, resulting in a deeper stretch and a relaxing and “restorative” practice.
So there you have it. A series of exercises to counteract some of the stresses and strains of our modern lives, and improve posture, strength and flexibility. Now go and enjoy the many other pleasures and gifts that also comprise our modern lives! See you next time.
Disclaimer: It is always advisable for anyone and everyone to consult a doctor or healthcare provider before embarking on any exercise program (including yoga). The above article is for informational purposes only. It is always advisable to seek the guidance and instruction of a qualified teacher or trainer before trying the exercises given in the article.