Ustrasana is one of the most versatile and beautiful back bends. Being a traction back bend (using gravity to melt into the pose), Ustrasana opens the heart by lifting the chest in a surrender. It is also very versatile by having many different expressions and lending it to people in all different levels of yoga.
During this time of the year use Ustrasana to open up the heart chakra for exploration. Find within it the parts of your past you are holding on to, or situations and people that may not be serving your higher purpose. Allow yourself forgiveness while in this pose for the things that you have experienced in your past that were painful. Ustrasana is a great forward fold that can be incorporated in any flow, or used as the pinnacle for a flow.
How to Practice:
When practicing this pose, while focusing on your heart chakra, make sure you feel out your lower back. Keep your abs (lower bandhas or lock) contracted to support your lower and upper back. Keep your knees under your hips, and your feet parallel.
Start on your knees with your back straight and your bum lifted. Tuck the pelvis. Inhale raising your right arm above your head, and exhale rotating your hand around and down to touch the ground, your heel, or resting on your lower back with fingers pointed down. Inhale repeating on the left side. When in Ustrasana, inhale lifting your heart, exhaling let your head, neck, and shoulders melt towards the ground with gravity. Find the expression that is right for you, and remember if it hurts, do not do it!
Other Comments of Ustrasana
Teachers have gone back and forth regarding contracting the butt while in traction back bends. Contracting the butt helps adds stability for those who have trouble using the ab muscles. Do what feels right. If using the butt helps bring stability and remove stress from the lower back then please practice this pose in that way; on the other hand if you find stability without this contraction then do not feel obligated.
If this is your first time performing this pose, try practicing with this add from “Anatomy and Asana” by Susi Hately Aldous.
“This experiment form two foam blocks between your thighs, close to the pelvis. Be sure they are not touching your knees. Gently press the blocks together. When you do, you are suing the hip abductors. Move into Ustrasa. You will notice; A greater release of the muscles in the front of the body; a deeper experience backward; less back pain. You can do this with any back bend.”
Counter poses to Ustrasana are any deep forward fold followed by a twist.