And exclamation points!
Not gonna lie, mostly using those because it is Monday, and my energy level has tanked.
But I wanted to get up the next installment in the prone backbending series, which is locust and half-locust.
Locust is an unsupported prone backbend, meaning that the core muscles, back and front, are providing all of the power for lifting. Given that, it’s very much a strength-building pose. And I think that we can sometimes get this idea that yoga — and especially categories of asanas with the word “bend” right in the name — is all about flexibility. But backbends are as much about base and core strength as they are about flexibility:
So the base here includes the pelvis, thighs, and feet. At the beginning of the pose — and throughout the variation where the legs stay on the ground, those muscles are activated and are moving toward the ground. In effect, that’s stabilizing the spine into its natural curve, which helps minimize spinal compression and lower back strain. Even when the lower back lifts the legs off the ground, this muscular engagement continues to support the back; though the angle will likely be different, the support is enough to keep from “crunching” the vertebrae in the lumbar spine.
Similarly, the core — which includes the abdominal muscles as well as the muscles in the back — provides lift and support. The muscles in the back lift from on top while the abdominal muscles lift and provide support to the spine from underneath. I’ve had some teachers refer to locust as an “all-around core strengthener” because it works both the front of the core (the abs) and the back of the core (the back) at once.
While the lower arms are in a different position (and in fact there are several variations for arm position with shalabasana), much of the upper body movement is identical to that in sphinx. The only difference is that the forearms aren’t on the floor to support you. The arc of the backbend still comes from lifting the heart center, the shoulders still slide down away from the ears, the shoulder blades still draw toward one another on the back. The neck is long and relaxed, avoiding unwarranted compression in the cervical spine.
If lifting both sides of the body at once is too much for you right now, ardha shalabasana (half locust) is an option:
I placed locust as Part 3 because I think it’s important, maybe not to have a whole lot of back strength, but at least to have a solid awareness of how it feels to engage the back muscles and use them to lift, lengthen, and protect the spine before moving into backbends like cobra and upward facing dog.
I say this because there’s a tendency for yoga media images (is that a Thing? it is now) to show us expressions of these backbends from people who have spinal flexibility that’s at the far end of the bell curve. It can lead us to believe that we must be bending that much in order to be “doin’ it right.” That’s untherapeutic at best, easily uncomfortable and unenjoyable, and potentially injurious. In light of that, I’d suggest that taking some a little while to build up not only body strength but also body wisdom in locust is time well spent.