by Michelle Berrange
‘Supta’ translated into English from Sanskrit is “reclined or supine” and ‘Virasana’ translated means “hero’s pose”.
Reclined hero’s posture can be described as a passive backbend or a classic front-opening pose. Sitting comfortably between the heels allows the front of the ankles, shins and lower legs to feel a stretch. As you lie back, the quadriceps and abdominal muscles lengthen, the knees are deeply flexed, and the hips are fully extended. Extending the arms overhead, continuing with the line of the body, adds a shoulder and chest expansion. Abdominal space is accessible because of the full elongation from the kneecaps to the fingertips.
Supta Virasana can have a calming effect when it is practiced safely. The unique supine position of the body gives the pose an additional restorative quality that is both comforting and useful. Restorative yoga positions are held without effort. The benefits are deep relaxation, a calm, meditative mind and a full, relaxed breath. All these results cause the body’s parasympathetic nerves to slow the heart rate, lessen the blood pressure and balance the immune and endocrine systems.
Supta Virasana is essentially a linear pose, but most practitioners need help to obtain this form. Most students in general with knee or lower back issues, tend to avoid attempting the shape completely. With proper guidance and prop understanding, everyone can enjoy Supta! The basic foundations, the entry and exit of the posture are all important components of the overall experience.
How to ENTER safely:
The knees and feet must be stable and hip distance apart.
Make sure the feet and toes point straight back behind.
Pull the calf flesh out towards the little-toe side before sitting down – allowing more space inside the knee and avoiding undue twisting of the joint.
Take as much height as needed under the bottom to ensure that there is clarity in feeling the centre of the buttock bones. (Trying to force the pelvis down between the heels before the body is ready is counterproductive and can injure the knees.
Once the sitting position between the hips is established and stable – student lowers down slowly onto the elbows
Tuck the buttocks IN – making sure that the tailbone moves in a downwards direction towards the knees so that the lumbar region isn’t over arching. This local movement of tilting the pelvis and keeping the buttocks relaxed is vital.
Keep the back of the neck long
Arms extend up overhead, stretch the fingers
Allow the stomach muscles to relax
(Don’t pull knees together once in the pose.)
How to EXiT with care:
Bring the hands to the feet
Slowly come onto the elbows and forearms, taking time to lift up symmetrically
Sit upright, reflect and be quiet for a moment and then bend forward into Extended child’s pose.
Propping Supta Virasana:
The basic formula for prop usage and setup must be precise. The more blocks under the seat, the more cushion support for the trunk. The bolster support must touch the end of the shoulder blades, and not be placed in the lower back. (which causes shortening and pain in the lumbar area). This configuration helps to decrease the intensity of the quadriceps stretch to a manageable , suitable level. It allows the spine to stay long instead of overarching, and keeps the knees safe and aligned. If a student has ankle issues / stiff ankles or pain in the feet – more blankets must be taken under the shin bones. Support must also be taken under the back of the hands and arms if they don’t rest comfortably above on the floor.
The practitioner must be safe, comfortable and fully supported so that the body will respond and open without struggling. Working with the body and not against it, listening to any physical limitations, taking sufficient support and practicing without aggression. By practicing patience and compassion we start to learn how to breathe and relax into resistance and to persist in the face of a challenge that can’t be instantly resolved.
Target Areas & Benefits:
The quadriceps are in full flexion and elongated into a cascading downward flow of energy.
If the quads are very tight, the knees and hips don’t extend to their full range of motion and they will prevent the knee from flexing fully, and the student from sitting easily between the heels. Using suitable props and taking the necessary height is vital.
The knees are at their most extreme point of flexion. Many of the smaller muscles, tendons and ligaments in the knee are stretched, massaging lymph through compression.
Supta Virasana is a wonderful tool in protecting the knees as well as contributing to the recovery from knee injuries. (Student must wait at least 6 months before starting to practice Supta Virasana after surgery. ) The deep stretch provided to the quadricep muscles and the knee ligaments helps to keep healthy mobility in the knee joint and increases the blood flow to the area, aiding in the healing process. If the knees are swollen the extreme stretch can squeeze excess fluid and reduce the swelling and discomfort.
The abdomen and digestive system receive a massage from the front body opening stretch, thereby squeezing all the abdominal organs. Supta Virasana helps relieves problems such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
Women who have irregular periods, menstrual cramps or fertility problems can benefit immensely from reclining in Supta Virasana for extended periods of time. Learning to relax the breath all the way down to the pubic region, relinquishing control in that area can help with experiencing release.
Supta Virasana provides therapeutic benefits to many imbalances in the upper and mid-body, including head colds, headaches and high blood pressure. By opening up the chest, torso and pelvic area – breathing becomes easy. The ribcage is stretched and expanded fully, which helps to fill the lungs to their maximum capacity and bring more oxygen into the system. Supta Virasana enhances creativity and intelligence as it increases the circulation in the brain.
Supta virasana is considered an intermediate supine hip opener. Supta Virasana increases mobility in the hip flexors, thighs, and knees, which can help to relieve sciatica and varicose veins.
When you stretch an area that is tense and tight you allow the circulation of blood and oxygen to improve the affected area, bringing lightness, and space so the body can heal. When tensions leave, the body goes back to its original state and balance is re-established.
Supta Virasana helps to realign rounded shoulders when the arms are extended up overhead because the shoulders move into the correct place in the shoulder socket and the scapular become flush along the back.
Reclining Hero’s Pose stretches and strengthens the ankles and can help cure flat feet because of the deep flexion in the foot.
The stretch across the diaphragm, the exposed floating ribs and the pressure from underneath on the scapular give a relaxed space across the solar plexus centre, enhancing a feeling of radiance. The solar plexus, which is situated just below the sternum towards the middle of the spine, is the energy centre of the body. It is the body’s powerhouse and it’s energy propels us to take the action necessary to move forward towards fulfilling our goals.
To be human means to give and to love. When we are scared we close in on ourselves and forget how to live in the heart and be compassionate to ourselves and others. By opening across the heart space our focus shifts from being too much in thinking and we are connected to feeling and living from the heart.
The opening across the chest helps to enhance courage and confidence levels in the personality. Any tension or tightness across the diaphragm will stretch so it can benefit those who suffer from asthma, bronchitis and other lung ailments.
The function of the spine is to support and elongate the body, and in this elongation the elasticity and youth of the spine can be regained and or maintained. Supta Virasana tones the spinal nerves and makes the back flexible. For those who suffer from sacroiliac instability, this pose can be an effective way to realign the joints when practiced with awareness.
A solution to tension in an area is to stretch or move the tense area and allow space, ease and freedom to replace the tension. Stimulating movement or applying massage to muscles and organs creates either a positive or negative suction. In Supta Virasana, a negative suction occurs on the organs to achieve a positive outcome. This negative suction on all the organs below the navel assists in the removal of toxins because it increases oxygen levels and blood flow in the cells and forces the toxins out. Darkness and disease is pushed out so that lightness and health can move in.
Supta Virasana can be practiced as a restful and relaxing pose, used to deeply renew the entire body. When Supta Virasana is experienced in totality of its restorative greatness, it embodies the meaning of the word repose: temporary rest from activity, excitement, or exertion.