Sphinx and Seal Pose
Last week, we covered a pose that is classified as a forward fold. Today we’ll move in the opposite direction and discuss sphinx and seal which are a pair of poses that fall into the back bend category. While they achieve different degrees of the same effect, one pose simply requires more arm strength and that’s seal. These poses provide great stimulation and compression of the spine, and can be therapeutic for those with bulging and/or herniated discs. In addition, the thyroid can be stimulated if the head is dropped back. A yogi with a bad back should be careful in this pose as it could be too intense. A pregnant yogi should elevate her belly off of the floor with bolsters or pillows. In addition, this pose can be too stimulating for someone with a bad headache.
Even if you know you possess the upper body strength to spend the full amount of time in seal, still being in sphinx to assess where your body is today. To come into sphinx, begin by lying on your belly. With arms out in front of you bend the arms to grab the opposite elbow. Begin moving the elbows to be underneath of your shoulders, and then prop yourself up so that you are supported by your forearms with hands out in front of you and palms flat on the floor. This is sphinx. You should feel mild to moderate compression in your lower spine. There should (as always) be no shooting pain, numbness, tingling, burning or pain outside of discomfort. We tend to carry a lot of stress in our shoulders so be conscious of that while in this pose as well as being sure to keep your glutes relaxed. If you feel that your body is ready for it today, move into seal by removing the bend in your arms and supporting yourself solely on your hands. Remember to refer back to the three pillars of yin (which you can find here), time, edge, and stillness. Once you are in seal or if you have remained in sphinx be sure to give your body enough time to access the connective tissues, find your body’s edge to get the greatest benefits from the pose, and try to be as still as possible in order to keep the connective tissues engaged. Listen to your body. If seal is getting too intense, slowly but deliberately move back down into sphinx and find stillness. Remain in this pose for three to five minutes and come out of it by simply lowering your chest to the floor and turning your head to one side. You may find that child’s pose is a nice followup as is lying flat. Be sure to pay attention to any sensations the pose may have created such as lightness in the back or a surge of energy that was once blocked. Enjoy!