Reverse Prayer Pose: Pashchima Namaskarasana.
Reverse Prayer, where the praying hands are against the upper/mid-thoracic spine (or as close as you can get to it), is more challenging than the basic Prayer Pose. However, even when the hands don’t rise so far up the spine, the pose still delivers a wonderful opening across the chest, down the arms and through to the pinky finger. The necessary rotation of the arms – led by the pinky but reaching from armpit & shoulder through elbow & wrist – really extends the Heart meridian.
In the complete pose, the hands are placed directly behind the Heart Chakra, at the level of the Zen Shiatsu Heart Diagnostic Zone in the back. Performing this pose, with awareness of meridian line and energy flow, will build strongly on both Pranamasana & Heart Makko Ho – the subjects of recent posts. It presents a good opportunity to use focused attention and relaxed breathing to maximize your awareness of the Chakra space, the meridian line and energy flow as well as your sense of your own well-being in the pose.
TIPS for Reverse Prayer:
- Always aim to keep your breathing soft and relaxed: inhaling to prepare and exhaling to move.
- Take your arms out to about 45 deg. Then stretch them diagonally away from the body to create some space in the armpit.
- Start to rotate the arms (lead with the little fingers turning outwards) before taking them behind your torso.
- Keep the neck long, the shoulders down and the elbows back.
- Experiment with your capacity to (1) keep the palms in maximum contact & (2) slide the hands further up the spine. Eventually you will be able to do both.
- Avoid falling into hyper-extension of the breast bone. Even though it feels so tempting to open the front of the heart in this way it is not a great place to stay and can actually create a sense of “hardness” across the chest.*
The flip-side of this hyper-extension is the very unfortunate squeezing of the thoracic spine. Keep the spine long, the sternum relaxed and the Heart Chakra free to expand within.
* Explore and Release the Heart Chakra in Reverse Prayer
Using your exhalation, gently move into the front hyper-extension and subsequent thoracic squeeze. You don’t need to go very far. As with the Makko Ho, the focus is on sensitivity to your experience of what is happening. Pause there when you have got rid of all the air. Then inhale, open the spine and return to your original, aligned position. Try to soften across the chest and lift through the crown of the head as you go. This will allow you to really feel the space – and the expansion of the space – between the breast bone and the thoracic spine.
The reverse movement (although a little more demanding) can be used to similar effect. Exhale to push backwards with the spine so that the sternum compresses in slightly. Again, keep the movement small but be aware of how it feels. Pause at your limit before exhaling to re-align. This time think of the spine softening as you lift through the crown.
COMBINATIONS for Reverse Prayer
Reverse Prayer can be combined with any number of standing, seated and rotated poses. It is often combined with Pyramid Pose, Parsvottanasana. Don’t think you need to go all the way into this single-leg forward bend – as shown. Take it gently and see just how intense you would like to make the experience. It’s more important to keep your heels – particularly the back one – firmly planted so that you maximize on the stretch up the whole side of the body.
Be conscious also that, in the Zen Shiatsu system, the Heart meridian runs to the heel pad. So it is really worthwhile keeping the heels thoroughly grounded. You can explore the angle of both the rear & front foot to find better awareness of the Zen extension of the classical Heart meridian .**
** [The extension runs from just below the buttock, down the inside / rear surface of the leg, behind the ankle bone to arrive on the sole of the foot in the centre of the heel pad.]
In moving from upright into the forward bending position pay special attention to keeping the spine long and the sternum relaxed, as per point 4 above. It is very tempting to lead with the chest – but please don’t. It is more important to keep the Heart Chakra unconstrained, supported with relaxed breathing and connected – in your awareness – through to the pinky fingers and the heel pads.
Other Heart Yoga you might enjoy: LAUGHTER.
Yes, you read that correctly. Good old fashioned laughter is the sound of Summer. Sharing laughter is also quite a good way to help people to feel better about their problems. (I.E: practicing a bit of compassion!)
Of course, if you are looking for a tougher Summer workout, look no more.