By Dan Charnas
One posture unique to Kundalini Yoga and used frequently is Stretch Pose. Although it can be challenging, when done correctly it has a tremendous effect on the entire body. Stretch Pose activates the third chakra. By working on the navel point, stretch pose resets the entire nervous system and strengthens the abdominal area. In conjunction with Breath of Fire, it is calming, rejuvenating, and it purifies the blood. By working on the third chakra, it boosts resolve and self-esteem.
- Lie on your back.
- Raise your head and heels 6 inches off the ground.
- Focus the eyes on the toes and stretch the toes so they point away from you.
- Place your arms either above your thighs with the palms facing down but not touching the legs, or along side your legs with the palms facing your body but not touching.
- Begin Breath of Fire.
In many sets, this posture is held for 1-3 minutes. Most people can muscle through the first 30 seconds or so, then the body may start to shake and the face may go into contortions, and then—collapse. Beginners are not expected to hold up for the full time.
Here are some techniques to master the posture without too much effort. First, understand that even though this posture takes some physical strength, it isn’t physical strength that keeps you up. It’s the navel center and the breath that gets you through. If you engage proper technique it takes less, not more, effort to go the distance.
The Lower Back and Legs
To create better stability in the posture, press your lower back into the floor as you raise the legs and apply a slight root lock. This action draws the navel center in and keeps the lower back in constant contact with the floor. It also brings the focus of the exercise to the navel center and provides the necessary base for the posture. Keep your toes pointed and feel the stretch from the navel center all the way down to your feet.
The Chest and Head
To raise your chest and head, first lengthen the back of your neck and bring the chest and head off the ground at the same time, then pull the chin into the throat into neck lock. This brings the heart center off the floor and creates a counter stretch from the navel center to the top of the head. If your head comes up too far, you put pressure on the heart and make it harder to keep your lower back on the floor. Mindfully lengthening your neck will help counter this tendency. Your upper body is stretching toward the top of your head and your lower body is stretching toward your feet. The navel center becomes the balance point or fulcrum of your body.
Your breath doesn’t need to be overly rapid; it should remain at a steady pace throughout the exercise. You may have noticed that breathing faster doesn’t make the time go by faster. Maintain a rate of 2 to 3 breaths per second and mentally chant the mantra Sat Nam. If you can focus on the breath and the mantra, and relax the muscles that aren’t needed, the time will fly by!
As you get more proficient in the posture, investigate different areas of your body and discover the muscles you don’t need to use to maintain the posture and relax them. For example, the muscles in your face are not holding up your legs, so try relaxing them; try a little smile. The energy released from the face can be used by the muscles that are actually needed to maintain the pose. As in all postures, you should be relaxed yet focused.
Stretch Pose Tips
For beginners, 3 minutes of Stretch Pose is close to impossible. Here are some simple techniques to gain confidence:
- Place your hands underneath your buttocks, this gives support to the low back and makes it easier to keep the legs up.
- Raise one leg at a time, and then switch after a minute or so. Or try bending your knees slightly.
- You may want to start with alternating 10 seconds in Stretch Pose and 10 seconds resting. Build up your time slowly and rest for 1-3 minutes when you finish. As you feel yourself getting stronger, increase the hold time and decrease the rest time.
Allow your body to work into the posture, experimenting with these suggestions until you have built up the necessary strength of body and mind. Before too long, you will breeze your way through 3 minutes of Stretch Pose.
Benefits of Stretch Pose
- Adjusts and strengthens the navel point, your power center
- Tunes-up your nervous and digestive systems
- Strengthens the reproduction organs and glands
Contraindications for Women
Do not practice Stretch Pose in the following circumstances because it puts extra pressure on the female reproductive organs:
- After the first 120 days of pregnancy
- If there are any pregnancy complications
- During the first few days of a woman’s moon cycle
Dan Charnas is a journalist, screenwriter, record producer, and teacher. He writes about culture, race, and politics for a number of publications including the Washington Post and the New York Press. His new book, “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,” is a 40-year narrative of the executives, entrepreneurs, hustlers and handlers who turned rap music into the world’s predominant pop culture. Dan has been a teacher of Kundalini Yoga for nearly a decade, certified by the Kundalini Research Institute. He teaches regular classes in New York, and contributes regularly to YogaJournal.com.