The sphinx is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and a human head. In traditional Indian lore, it is said to take away the sins of the devotees when they enter a temple, and to ward off evil in general. We can think of the mythical sphinx as a gatekeeper, or guardian, as it is found across ancient cultures guarding the entrances of temples.
Similarly, in yoga the sphinx posture, or Ardha Bhujangasana (half cobra posture), can be thought of as warding off the evils of neck and shoulder pain and tension. Nowadays so many of us spend long hours sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer. This weakens the shoulder girdle, and when the shoulder girdle is weak, stress causes the shoulders to start creeping up towards your ears, and neck and shoulder tension ensues.
Sphinx posture helps to alleviate neck and shoulder tension by stabilizing the shoulder girdle. It also creates an overall lengthening of the spine to decompress vertebrae (although those with low back pain should use caution and/or seek the advice of a qualified yoga teacher).
Sphinx Posture (Ardha Bhujangasana)
- Begin lying face down with the arms extended up by the ears. Legs can be together or hip-width apart.
- Begin lifting the chest and drawing the elbows back along the floor until they are directly beneath the shoulders. The forearms should be parallel to each other, with the palms of the hands on the floor.
- Lengthen the elbows into the floor, engaging the back and widening the collarbones. Keep the neck relaxed, and allow the sternum to open forward through the upper arms.
- Feel the tailbone lengthening back between the heels, elongating the low back while being careful not to tense the butt muscles.
Breath and Awareness
- Inhale as you lift into the posture, then breathe slightly deeper than normal while holding the final position for 1-2 minutes.
- As you inhale, draw the energy of the breath into the heart center. As you exhale, allow the heart to soften while pressing down through the elbows.
- Exhale as you release the posture.
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