The word "hala" in Sanskrit means a ‘plow’ (also spelt ‘plough’), a basic implement in the old days usedÂ to till the soil. In its final position, it resembles a wooden plough which is pulled by one or two oxen or horses in the field. The mention of the name ‘plough’ brings back memories from my own childhood days while I was growing up in the villages of Punjab where this was a common site in the fields.
Halasana is one of the best poses for stretching every part of the spine, especially the upper part of the spine. It is commonly practiced as a concluding variation of the ‘sarvangasana’ (shoulder stand). However, it can be practiced as a stand-alone pose for all the benefits that it provides (see under ‘benefits’ below).
- Lie down flat on your back with the arms alongside the body, palms facing down.
- Keep the legs straight and together throughout the practice of the basic pose.
- Relax the whole body and mentally prepare for the pose.
- Slowly raise the legs to a vertical position; try to use abdominal muscles more than the arms while raising the legs up.
- At this point you may use the support of the hands behind the back to raise the legs further.
- Exhale and continue to raise the legs over the head, bending at the waist, lifting the back and buttocks.
- Make an effort to bring the feet all the way down until the toes touch the floor directly behind the head.
- If you cannot touch the floor with your toes, hold them as close to the floor as possible and continue to exert a gentle effort to lower them, without causing any strain.
- Keep the feet together. If the lower back is supported by the hands try returning the arms flat to the floor with the palms facing down. If you are unable to comfortably place the arms on the floor continue to support the lower back with the hands.
- If the arms are on the floor, try to join the palms, interlock the fingers and gently pull the hands away from the body.
- Keep the knees straight. Maintain your natural breathing pattern and hold the posture for about 30 seconds. At no point you should be straining yourself to hold the pose.
- With practice, over a period of time, you may begin to increase the holding time for the pose.
- To come out of the pose, begin by first lowering the back to the floor, one vertebra at a time.
- When the tailbone touches the floor, begin to release the legs down. Try to keep the legs straight and use the abdominal muscles to support the downward movement of the legs.
- Finally rest in shavasana for a few breaths.
Variations of Halasana
This variation is simply an extension of the shoulder stand (sarvangasana). From the final position of the shoulder stand, begin to lower the legs overhead and follow the same guidelines as mentioned above for the practice of halasana.
In the final position of Halasana, stretch the hands toward the feet and try to grasp the toes. Pulling the heels away from you, try to bring the toes closer to the head. This stretches the lower back.
In the final position of Halasana, pull the heels in toward you and push the toes away from you.
This variation stretches both the back and the neck very effectively.
From the final position of Halasana, bend the knees and try to bring the knees close to the floor and close to the ears. If comfortable, you may like to wraps the arms around your legs. This variation of halasana is also called the ‘karnapidasana’ (‘squeezing the ears’ pose).
In this variation, hold the big toes with your hands. Now begin to spread the feet apart as far as they comfortably go. Hold the position for about 30 seconds and then bring the feet back together.
Variation 6 (Dynamic Halasana)
In this variation, we combine two poses – the forward bending pose (pashchimottanasana) and the halasana – in a dynamic movement synchronized with proper breathing.
- Start in the forward bending pose. In the seated position, stretch the legs straight out in front. While exhaling, begin to bend forward, going as far as comfortable.
- While inhaling, roll your back down to the floor, and dynamically bring the legs overhead into the halasana position.
- While exhaling, once again roll back into the forward bending pose.
- Continue in this manner for 6-8 breaths, keeping the movement completely synchronized with the breathing, as described here.
Any of the backward bending postures can be used as the counter pose for halasana. The most commonly practiced are matsyasana (fish pose) or the ushtrasana (camel pose). These asanas release the compression of the neck and throat by stretching the neck in the opposite direction.
- All of the muscles and ligaments in the calves and thighs are stretched resulting in greater flexibility of the legs. People suffering from leg cramps will find great relief from the halasana.
- Since the abdominal area is contracted, blood compressed out of this area releases toxins. When the contraction is released the area is flooded with richly oxygenated blood. The contraction also helps to relieve gas and stimulates a sluggish digestive system. All the abdominal organs – liver, pancreas, gall bladder etc are massaged.
- Similar effects take place as the neck and chest area is compressed benefiting the throat, thyroid, parathyroid and the lungs.
- Upper and lower back pain or discomfort is relieved due to the forward stretching of the spine. Halasana makes the whole spine supple, stretches and loosens the back muscles and the vertebrae and tones the nerves.
- Many of the benefits of the sarvangasana (shoulder stand) also apply to the halasana,Â with the added benefits detailed above. In fact, as mentioned above, Halasana is commonly practiced as a final variation of the shoulder stand.
- Those suffering from hernia, slipped disc, sciatica, high blood pressure (not controlled with medication) or any serious back problem should avoid Halasana.
- While in the final pose, make sure not to move the head around. Any movement of the head can result in neck injury.
Question for you: Do you practice halasana as a variation of the shoulder stand or as a stand-alone pose? Do you practice any variations other than those mentioned in this post? Please provide your comments below.