Written by Kara Goodsell
In the fourth posture that comprises the Purna Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), we look at Balasana, a basic kneeling forward bend.
The most central movement of the human spine is flexion – the one that emphasises its primary curve. In the womb and for a period of time following birth, a baby’s spine is shaped like the letter C. This curve is termed a primary curve, which is Kyphotic. As it’s name would therefore suggest, the Pose of the Child replicates the primary curve of the foetus floating in utero and holds a deep physical and psychological memory of our time as infants.
The geometry of the pose causes the front rib cage to compress which in turn resists our common adopted pattern of breathing into the front of the lungs. As the frontal ribs are compressed, the presence of the internal organs and the restriction of the abdomen against the thighs limit the movement of the diaphragm. This resistance can assist us to confront our attitudes and patterns of breathing, the health of our organs, and the level of awareness in moving from the abdomen with the breath.
It is a pose that can be practiced on its own, or between poses because of its resting and recuperative benefits.
Bala= young, childish, not fully grown or developed
Asana = comfortable seat
Pronunciation: bah – las – ahnna
Contraindications & Cautions
Knee injury: approach the kneeling forward fold with caution – place a folded blanket or bolster between the buttocks and the heels
High Blood Pressure (hypertension): support the head with block or fists, so that the head stays in line with heart
Pregnancy: take the knees hip width (or wider) apart and may have to use a bolster in late pregnancy
Restriction and weakness in the muscles of the feet and lack of mobility in bones of the feet: support with a folded blanket underneath the upper foot and ankle
A resting position which restores balance and harmony to the body and cools the front brain, allowing the mind to become open and receptive
Reduces stress and fatigue
Elongates the lower back, spine, buttocks and hamstrings
Stretches the muscles of the shins and feet
The challenge of the pose is to bring the sitting bones to the heels and the forehead to the floor, surrendering to the forces of gravity which allow the body to release deeply into position.
With the front of the torso resting on the surface of the thighs, the movement of breath in the abdomen and the rib cage is distorted, which in turn necessitates more movement in the back waist and rib cage.
Start in a kneeling position, with the knees together and the buttocks resting down toward or on the heels
On an exhalation, bend forward from the hips, folding the torso onto the tops of the thighs. The heart rests on tops of the thighs and the forehead rests on the floor
Or, in the case of the Purna Sun Salute, step your front foot back, coming out of the previous posture, Ashva Sanchalasana, and draw the buttocks back to the heels, torso to the thighs, forehead to the floor.
Extend the arms back beside the body, with the backs of the hands resting on the floor, elbows bent and fingers curling softly into the palms. Or, in the case of the Purna Sun Salute, extend the arms overhead, palms down.
Allow the upper back (thoracic) to broaden, the tail bone toward the earth and lift the base of the skull away from the back of the neck;
Alignment & Anatomical Focus:
Feet & Legs:
With the toes pointing away from the body, the feet are in plantar flexion. For some, restriction can be felt in the tops of the feet, if the muscles of the toes are tight or (weak) or there is a lack of mobility in the bones of the foot, which may result in cramping. The use of props can assist in this release – by placing a three fold blanket underneath the ankles and toward the upper top foot.
Ease in the pose requires lengthening of the hamstrings, buttocks and the muscles around the shins. The act of surrendering to gravity supports the natural lengthening of the muscles.
Pelvis and Hips & Torso:
As the front of the torso releases to the thighs, chest and abdominal expansion is limited.
Sometimes there is congestion in the front of the hip joints, which can be caused by using the hip flexors to pull the body down toward the thighs, rather than releasing to the force of gravity. Placing a bolster between the buttocks and heels can help.
Rather than having the hands by the feet, palms uppermost, keep the arms overhead, shoulder-width apart, with the palms pressing down into the floor. This then allows for a good transition posture, enabling one to transition move easily into other postures such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose).
On the inhalation, imagine you are drawing your breath in through your navel and feel the navel move slightly back toward the spine. Your breath should create a soft, audible noise from the back of your throat, and you should sense a soft suction in the abdomen pulling in the stem of the navel.
As you continue inhaling, the fullness of your breath moves behind the heart, filling the back of the lungs and softening the spine. As the thoracic ribs expand slightly, feel the skin across your shoulder blades widening and stretching outward, all the way down to the sacrum
As you exhale, release the weight of your abdominal organs, soften the diaphragm, and surrender the arms, feeling their weight pulling down on the shoulders and collarbones, allowing any tension to drain away over the shoulders, down the arms, and out of the body. The energy of the frontal chest and ribs remains still.
The release of the organs draws your energy down into the pelvic floor, which in effect rebounds up and triggers subtle movement in the spine. With practice, more space is created in the abdomen as the organs become toned and supple. By focusing the pattern of breathing into the back, the spine will elongate freely as the breath works slowly to expand and release the tension in your ribs.
On an inhalation, roll up the spine vertebra by vertebra, until the torso is in an upright position. Or, in the case of Purna Sun Salute, slide through into the next posture, Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).
1.Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Published by Human Kinetics 2007