The Locust Postures

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The locust posture is named for the manner in which grasshop, >rs

(locusts) move their rear ends up and down. The locust postures complex -nt the cobras, lifting the lower part of the body rather than the upper, but ley are more difficult because it is less natural and more strenuous to lift he lower extremities from a prone position than it is to lift the head and shoul< >rs.

We can test the relative difficulty of one of the locust postures w ha simple experiment. Lie prone with the chin on the floor and the bat of the relaxed hands against the floor alongside the thighs. To imitate he cobra, lift the head and shoulders. Look around. Breathe. Enjoy, his exploratory gesture could hardly be more natural. Notice that it dot n't take much effort to lift up, that it is easy to breathe evenly, that the u ier extremities are not involved, and that the movement doesn't threater he lower back. By contrast, to imitate the locust we'll need three time as many directions and cautions. Starting in the same position, point the >es, extend the knees by tightening the quadriceps femoris muscles, and ex tie.

Keeping the pelvis braced, lift the thighs without bending the knees. 1 n t hold your breath, and be careful not to strain the lower back. W1 t a difference! While almost anyone new to hatha yoga can do the first exei ise with aplomb, the second is so difficult and unfamiliar that new stui nts have to be guided from beginning to end.

the half locust

The easiest locust posture involves lifting only one thigh at a time in:- 'ad of both of them simultaneously. This is only about a tenth rather than alf as hard as the full locust because one extremity stabilizes the pelvis w i'e the other one is lifted, and this has the effect of eliminating most of the ten tin in the lower back. To begin, lie prone with the chin on the floor, the a ns

alongside the chest, the elbows fully extended, and the backs of the fists against the floor near the thighs. Point the toes of one foot, extend the knee, and hit the thigh as high as possible, but do this without strongly pressing the opposite thigh against the floor (fig. 5.15). Breathe evenly for ten seconds, come down slowly, and repeat on the other side.

The half locust is a good road map for the full posture because we see similar patterns of muscular activity, but it is easier to isolate and analyze the various sensations when one thigh is braced against the floor. To create the lift, the gluteus maximus and the hamstring muscles hyperextend the thigh against the resistance of the abdominal muscles, the iliopsoas muscle, and the quadriceps femoris. The hamstring muscles don't insert directly on the thigh. They insert on the back of the tibia, but in this case they act only on the pelvis because their tendency to flex the leg at the knee joint is prevented by strong isometric contraction of the quadriceps femoris muscle, which keeps the knee joint extended. It is as if you have attached a rope to the most distant of two boards that are hinged end-to-end; the far board is the tibia, and the near board is the femur. You want to lift the two boards as a unit to keep them aligned, but the rope goes only to the distant board. So another set of supporting lines has to run on the front (locking) side of the hinge to prevent the boards from folding up. The hamstring muscles are the ropes; the quadriceps femoris muscles are the supporting lines.

The half locust posture is worth more attention than it usually gets. In a slightly different form it is commonly prescribed by physiatrists and physical therapists for the recovery period that follows acute lower back pain. If you are on the mend from such a condition, and if you are able to he in the prone position without pain, you can rapidly alternate what might be called thigh lifts—extending the knees and raising them (one at a time) an inch off the floor at the rate of about four lifts per second. If you repeat the exercise twenty to thirty times several times a day, it will strengthen the back muscles from a position that does not strain the lower back.

F'gure 5.15. Half locust. This posture, which should be done without pressing •he upper extremities and the opposite thigh strongly against the floor, is excellent for leisurely analysis of complex muscular and joint actions.

F'gure 5.15. Half locust. This posture, which should be done without pressing •he upper extremities and the opposite thigh strongly against the floor, is excellent for leisurely analysis of complex muscular and joint actions.


the supported half locust

A more athletic posture supports the lifted thigh with the opposite leg a d foot. Lie in the same prone position with the chin on the floor. Place f ,e right fist alongside the right thigh, with the back side of the hand agai st the floor, and place the left hand, palm down, near the chest. Twist yc ir head to the left and bend the right knee, flexing the right leg 90°. Th n, using an any-which-way-you-can attitude—in other words, the easiest v (y possible—swing the left thigh up and support it on the right foot just al , e the left knee. Nearly everyone will have to lift their pelvis off the floo: 10 get the left thigh high enough, and that is the purpose of twisting the h id to the left and of having the left hand near the chest to help you balai e. Tiy not to end up with the entire body angled too far off to the right, how( t. Use your breath naturally to support coming into the posture, takii a sharp inhalation on the lift, and then breathing cautiously but evenly w ile the foot is supporting the thigh. Even though you came into the posi re with a swinging movement, try to come down slowly by sliding the r ht foot down the left leg. Repeat on the other side.

You can refine this exercise to make it both more difficult and n >re elegant if you come up slowly instead of with a swinging movem it. Concentrate on breathing evenly throughout the effort and on keepin, he pelvis square with the floor. Settle into the posture by slowly relaxing he abdominal muscles and hip flexors, which increases extension of the b 'k. Finally, if you are flexible enough, deepen the backbend with your bn thing, supporting the full posture both with the diaphragm and with op thoracic inhalations (fig. 5.16).

the simple full locust

As soon as your are comfortable with the half locust you can begin to pm< ice the full locust. The basic posture, which we'll call the simple full loci: is a difficult pose, but we place it first to give an idea of the posture in its 1 ire form. The last three variations form a logical sequence which we'll ca he beginning, intermediate, and advanced locusts.

To do the simple full locust, place the chin on the floor, the arms alon ide the thighs, the forearms pronated, and the backs of the fists agains he floor. If you want to make the posture more difficult, supinate the fore ms and face the backs of the fists up. In either case point the toes to the 'af-

tighten the gluteal muscles, and last, keeping the knees extended, h> er-

extend both thighs, allowing them to become comfortably abducted at he same time. Do not tiy to aid the effort for hyperextension of the thighs ith the arms at this stage. That will come later. If you are a beginner you >ay not have enough strength to make any external movement at all, or oU

may barely be able to take some of the weight off the thighs, but you > ill


feel the effects in the lumbar, lumbosacral, sacroiliac, and hip joints, and you will still benefit from the effort.

When you raise the thighs in the simple full locust, you are trying to hyperextend them with the gluteus maximus muscles acting as prime movers, and doing this with both thighs at the same time makes this posture a great deal more difficult than the half locust: you are lilting twice as much weight, the pelvis is reacting to the muscular tension instead of stabilizing the posture for lifting just one side, and the lumbar lordosis is accentuated in one of the most unnatural positions imaginable. To make this seem a little easier you can take the option of allowing the knees to bend slightly, which will have two effects: it will permit the hamstring muscles to be more effective in aiding extension of the thighs, and it will facilitate their roles as antagonists to the quadriceps femoris muscles. The reason for allowing the thighs to become abducted brings us hack to the hips; the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (figs. 3.8b, 3.ioa-b, 8.9, 8.12, and 8.14) are abductors, and holding the thighs adducted keeps these muscles in a stretched position and generally impedes hip hyperextension. The simple full locust is a challenging posture if your measure of success is external movement, but if you practice it daily you will soon be able to lift up more convincingly.

the beginner s full locust

The next variation, the beginner's full locust, is the easiest in the series. Keeping the elbows straight, place the fists under the thighs, pronating the forearms so that the backs of the fists are against the floor, and pull the arms and forearms under the chest and abdomen. Again, keeping the heels, toes, and knees together, try to lift the thighs while holding the knees fairly straight (fig. 5.17). This variation will affect a higher position in the lumbar region than the first posture, and your attention will be drawn to the genitals

Figure 5.16. Supported half locust. Beginning students can leam •his posture by first turning the head in •he same direction as the thigh that will be raised, then swinging the thigh UP and catching it With the opposite foot; refinements to provide for more grace and elegance can come later.


rather than the anus, favoring activation of mula bandha over ashwii mudra.

The beginner's full locust is easier than the simple version because tl fists provide a fulcrum that allows you to lift the thighs into extension froi 1 a partially flexed position. In the simple version of the full locust in whi( 1 you are trying to lift your thighs from an extended to a hyperextend 1 position, most of your effort goes into the isometric effort of pressing t pelvis more firmly against the floor. For unathletic beginners this is the e 1 of the posture. But they should still experience both—the simple full loci t to feel the essence of the basic pose, and the beginner's full locust to fee a sense of accomplishment.

the intermediate full locust

You need to develop more strength in your shoulders, arms, and forear is for the intermediate variation of the locust. It is exactly like the prevu is pasture except that you use the arms, forearms, and interlocked hand o press against the floor, and this helps you lift up much further. It requ >s a whole-body effort involving all the muscles on the anterior sides of le arms and shoulders, plus the deep back muscles, the gluteal muscles, id the hamstrings. The intensity of the commitment needed to raise the kr es just a few inches off the floor is likely to surprise even a good athlete, i ut lift as high as possible and hold (fig. 5.18). Many benefits are gained jus yy increasing the isometric tension in your personal end position.

Even though this posture requires a whole-body effort, you feel it r >st significantly in the lower back. You can check this in someone else by pla ig your hands on either side of their vertebral column as they initiate the ft. In eveiyone, you will feel the muscles in the lower half of the back bi ge strongly to the rear, and in those who are able to lift their knees six in< es or more off the floor, you will notice the bulge spreading throughoul he back as more and more of the erector spinae is recruited into the effoi

Figure 5.17. This beginner's full locust is easier than the simple full locust (ni illustrated) because the position of the fists under the upper portions of the thighs permits them to act as a fulcrum for lifting the thighs. This posture als favors holding mula bandha over ashwini mudra (which is more in character or the simple full locust).

Figure 5.17. This beginner's full locust is easier than the simple full locust (ni illustrated) because the position of the fists under the upper portions of the thighs permits them to act as a fulcrum for lifting the thighs. This posture als favors holding mula bandha over ashwini mudra (which is more in character or the simple full locust).


One of several unique characteristics of the locust posture is the extent to which the pelvis is braced. All of your efforts to lift are countered by numerous muscles acting as antagonists from the anterior side of the body: the rectus femoris pulls on the anterior inferior spine of the ilium; the psoas pulls on the lumbar spine; and the iliacus pulls on the pelvis. All of these muscles and their synergists act together from underneath to brace the body between the knees and the lumbar spine. And with this foundation stabilized, the gluteus maximus muscles, hamstrings, and erector spinae operate together to lift the pelvis and lower spine as a unit. The gluteus maximus muscles will first shorten concentrically and then act isometrically to place tension on the iliotibial tracts, which run between the ilia and the proximal portions of the tibias and fibulas (figs. 3.8-y and 8.12). The actions of the gluteus maximus muscles are supported synergis-tically by the hamstrings, which, like the gluteus maximi, pull between the pelvis (in this case the ischial tuberosities) and the legs.

By themselves the gluteus maximus muscles and their synergists would not take you far, as in the case of the simple and beginner's full locust, but when the arms and forearms are strong enough to help drive you up, the muscles on the back side of the body are able to act more efficiently. This is a powerful posture but one of the most unnatural postures in hatha yoga, and since much of the tension for raising the thighs is brought to bear on the lower back, it is for intermediate and advanced students only.

The whole-body muscular efforts needed to maintain the intermediate full locust are intense, and since the abdominal muscles and the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms have to support the effort from beginning to end, inhalations will not be very deep, and the externally visible effects of breathing will be negligible.

figure 5.18. This intermediate full locust is manageable only by intermediate and advanced students; those who are not both strong and flexible will not be able to lift this far off Jbe floor. In any case, what differentiates the posture from 'he beginner's full locust is the Way the pose is supported using »he upper extremities.

Yoga Locust Pics

}02 ANATOMY OF HATHA YOGA the advanced full locust

The advanced full locust is one of the most demanding postures in ha ia yoga. To do it, those who are able to lift themselves up moderately in ie intermediate practice now roll all the way up in one dynamic movemi it, balancing their weight overhead so the posture can be maintained with ut much muscular effort. This is only for athletes who are confident of t! ;jr strength, flexibility, and the soundness of their spines. Those who can i it always seem to be at a loss for words when they try to explain what i oy do—speaking vaguely about concentration, breath, flexibility, and inter, in. It's a whole-body effort. If any link is weak the posture cannot be don

To press up into this posture, nearly everyone has to lock the elbow nd then interlock the hands underneath the body in some way. You can intei >ck the little fingers and keep the rest of the fingers and palms agains: he floor. Or you can clasp the fingers together as in fig. 5.18. starting the pos ion with the hands cupped around the genitals. In either case, lift up int he intermediate position using the arms and back muscles. And then, wit .»ut hesitating, inhale, bend the knees, press the arms and forearms ag; nst floor more forcefully, and in one fluid movement lift into the final po ure with the feet straight up. Ideally, this is a balancing position. Once yoi are in it you will need to keep only moderate isometric tension in the ick muscles, you will not have to keep pressing so vigorously with the ms, and you can flatten the backs of the hands against the floor. Flexibih for backbending really pays off here, the more the better, and the easier 1 will be to balance without holding a lot of tension in the deep back muscle You can either keep your feet pointing straight up or lower them towar the head (fig. 5.19), which makes it even easier to balance.

Breathing is one of the most important elements of the advanced 1« ust, and most students will find it necessary to take a deep inhalation to sist the action of coming up into the pose. After that there are two schi s of thought. One is to exhale as you come up and keep the airway open acc< > ling to the general rule for hatha yoga postures. This is the best appi ach because the pose is executed and supported by a combination of the >per extremities, the deep back muscles, and intra-abdominal pressure—1 t by intrathoracic pressure (chapter 3). But if you can't quite do that yc can close the glottis to lift up and then breathe freely once you are balan< d.

If you do not have enough flexibility in the back and neck to r< iain comfortably balanced after you are in the posture, you can place the 1 Inis flat against the floor, bend the elbows slightly, and support the lowei ,>art of the chest (and thus the whole body) with the arms and elbows. Thi will enable you to build up lime in the pose.

The advanced locust places the neck in more extreme, and forced, b PCT' extension than any other posture, and Uj prepare for this students will


it desirable not only to work witb backbending postures in general, but also with special postures that extend the neck to its maximum. The cobra postures (figs. 5.9-12), the upward-facing dogs (figs. 5.13-14), and the scorpion (fig. 8.31b) are all excellent for this purpose.

Although the advanced locust has to be treated as a dynamic whole, tiy to do it slowly. Many students have been hurt by falling out of the posture when they have tried to toss themselves up into the full pose before they have developed sufficient strength and control. If you are almost able to do the advanced locust, you will soon be able to master it by developing just a little more lumbar flexibility in combination with more strength in the arms and back.

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A Guide To Practice Yoga

A Guide To Practice Yoga

Discover How to Practice Yoga! Now you can use a practical stepbystep guide to learn Yoga techniques. Including the Practices and Exercises of Concentration, both Objective and Subjective, and Active and Passive Mentation, an Elucidation of Maya, Guru Worship, and the Worship of the Terrible, also the Mystery of Will-Force.

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