Written by Kara Goodsell
In the third posture of the Purna Surya Namaskar series we look at Ashva Sanchalanasana, a low lunge pose.
This asana is a variation of ‘Anjaneyasana’, which is another name for Lord Hanuman the monkey God of Vedic mythology. Hanuman is an incarnate of Lord Shiva who wears the crescent moon in his hair. In Anjaneyasana, the torso is in an upright position and the arms are raised above the head, palms touching in namaskar.
The crescent moon shape of Anjaneyasana teaches that what we don’t see is just as important as what we do see and that stability comes from the equalisation of opposing forces: light and dark; sun and moon; ‘ha’ and ‘tha’. Through our practice of asana we begin to see the importance of balancing the forces of nature and intuition with the forces of intelligence, reasoning and logic.
Ashva = horse
Sanchalana = movement or stepping; a march or parade;
Asana = comfortable seat
Contraindications & Cautions
Knee injury: avoid, or take extra caution with front knee alignment – the front knee should be directly above the ankle and the shin is perpendicular to the; if necessary practice the gentle variation with the back knee resting on the floor;
Neck problems: look down at the floor instead of straight ahead;
Late pregnancy: place both hands on inside of front foot, and only straighten the back leg if it feels appropriate
Stretches the quadricep muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius);
Stretches the deep iliopsoas muscle and opens the groin and hips;
Lengthens the spine and strengthens the muscles of the chest, opening the heart and increasing lung capacity
Tones the kidney and liver and stimulates abdominal organs;
Has a positive effect on mental power – increases will power, courage and determination
From Uttanasana, bend the knees and, on an inhale, look forward.
On an exhalation, step the right foot back, toward the back edge of the mat, with the ball of the foot on the floor. Anchor the right heel toward the floor by extending away through the heel, keeping the right kneecap lifting.
(Note: A more gentle variation can be practiced by bending the right leg and allowing the right knee to rest on the floor.)
Step back far enough so that the left thigh is parallel to the floor and the left knee forms a right angle with the left shin perpendicular to the floor.
Lay the torso toward the front thigh and lengthen it forward, keeping the chest and heart centre lifting and the back of the neck long.
Bring the hands either side of the front foot, keeping the fingertips rather than the palms on the floor, so that the chest lifts, and the weight is in the thighs rather than collapsing into the arms.
To release, exhale and step the right foot forward, beside the left into Uttanasana, or continue on into the next posture of the Purna Surya Namaskar – balasana (featured in next month’s newsletter).
Alignment & Anatomical Focus:
Thighs & Knee
In order to protect the knee of the bent leg, it is important that the knee remains directly above the ankle or back toward the body. The centre of the kneecap must align with the centre of the right ankle, so that the knee does not drop to the inside or outside. The action of squeezing the front heel in toward the centre of the mat and spreading the mat with the ball of the front foot helps to firm the thigh and simultaneously turn it outward, so that the position of the knee remains stable.
The shin of the bent leg remains perpendicular to the floor, creating a 90 degree angle, and ideally the thigh is parallel to the floor. Lift the inner groin deep into the pelvis.
The back leg extends from the hip to the knee, from the knee to the ankle, and the ankle out through the heel, as if trying to anchor the back heel toward the floor. Open the space behind the knee, keeping the muscles above the kneecap lifted. Imagine that the back heel is resting against a wall and that you are trying to push the wall away.
Alternatively, the back knee remains resting on the floor. If practicing this pose in isolation, you may wish to place a blanket underneath the back knee for support.
Pelvis and Hips & Torso
As the torso extends toward the front thigh and lengthens forward the focus is on allowing the hips to release toward the floor and to gradually increase the opening through the front of the groin.
Try to avoid laying the torso on the front thigh. Keep the sternum and heart centre lifting.
Allow the hip of the right (back) leg to roll slightly forward, toward the left, so that the hips become parallel and squared off. To soften the groin, imagine that the front thigh is sinking toward the floor.
To increase the stretch on the front of the right thigh, lengthen the tailbone down toward the floor and lift the navel toward the spine, and allow the hips to soften down another notch.
Feel the stretch from the right (back) thigh moving up along the front of the body all the way to the eyebrow centre.
Shoulders & Hands
Ideally the fingertips are at the floor. The palms are not on the floor, so stretch into the heels of the palms and take them toward the floor, with the arms straight. By keeping the fingertips on the floor, this ensures that the chest remains lifted and the weight of the torso is taken into the thighs rather than the arms. You can challenge yourself in the pose by taking the fingertips just off the floor, and whilst maintaining the lift in the chest, place them back down again
Keep the shoulders moving away from the ears and the shoulder blades moving down the back toward the kidneys.
Look down, or slightly forward, allowing the back of the neck to lengthen and extend away through the crown of the head, so that the back of the neck is not compressed.
1. Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life
Published by Random House 2002.