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Translation: Ananta is the name of the thousand-headed serpent upon which legendary deity Vishnu rests at the bottom of the primordial ocean. Ananta is also a name for Vishnu himself. While he sleeps a lotus grows from his navel. In that lotus is born Brahma, the Creator of the universe. The pose imitates the stalk growing from the navel with the extended leg in that position. This pose is found in the temple dedicated to Lord Ananta Padmanabha of Trivandrum in South India. By seeing the archeological evidence of yoga postures in motifs and statues, we see the ancient history of yoga revealed in art.
Technique: Lie on your back then rotate so the left side is resting on your mat. That side of the body is in contact with the surface of the mat.
Lift the left forearm bending the left elbow. The lower arm on the mat should be aligned with your body. Rest your head in the left hand. Your hand should be placed over or above the ear with the fingers pointing towards the crown of your head. Get your bearings, and find the balance as you stay in this position for a few seconds.
Bend your right knee and grab the toes with your right hand’s forefinger and thumb. If you don’t yet have the stretch needed to hold the toes after the leg is again straightened, loop a yoga belt or strap around the sole of the right foot and grasp it as close to your foot as possible while still being able to straighten the leg. As you exhale, extend the right arm and leg up simultaneously toward the ceiling. Both your resting leg and your extended leg should be actively stretching and straight. In the pose work on descending the right sit-bone towards the left leg so that both sit bones (ischial tuberosities) are aligned perpendicularly with the floor. Then, keeping both legs extended and the sit-bones aligned, use your right hand to lower the right foot over the head towards the floor.
In the final pose both side hip bones and the raised leg should be in line and perpendicular with the floor. To accomplish this alignment of the hips most people need to bring the right buttock forward (towards the front body) while using the right arm to help in bringing the raised and extended right leg back until it is perpendicular with the floor. This makes the pose both a groin opener and a leg stretch.
Hold the pose for 15 or 20 seconds while you breathe normally. Find the balance, which is tricky, with your core abdominal strength. Your body should be in one plane if you do this pose correctly. Flexed feet also help you get the balance.
When you release the pose to come out of it, slowly bring hands to the normal position so you are on your side. Then rotate, and gently lie on your back in supine position. Repeat the pose on the other side. You might practice on one side, the other side, back to the first side and then the second side again. This means that you do the pose twice on each side alternating with the other side.
Beginner’s Tip: Keep your body in a one plane parallel with the wall. Do not let your hips go backward. Keep the bottom arm and the lifted leg back. While lying on your side, balance in the pelvis. Open the length of the body. Extend your limbs and your torso to get the balance. Focusing your gaze at a spot about three feet in front of you can help you get the balance.
If the pose is simply too tricky to find the balance, try doing the pose with the end of your mat next to the wall. Start with both feet touching the wall and lift the top one up while the bottom flexed foot stabilizes against the wall. This might make it easier.
Benefits: Practicing of the pose improves one’s balance
It stretches and tones the hamstrings and calves, improving blood circulation
The pose can alleviate and eventually cure certain leg muscle pulls.
Anantasana increases hamstring, hip and leg adductor flexibility.
It also helps relieve some forms of backache.
This pose tones muscles that work to prevent some hernias.
Anantasana also tones the pelvis.
Do not practice if you have hip problems.
If you have any neck problems, don’t turn your head up so far but face forward.
Exercise some caution with your hamstrings, listening and not go beyond what feels comfortable in the stretch of this asana (yoga pose).
Many thanks to Victor Oppenheimer who edited this article and shared his many years of expertise.Victor is a yoga teacher in Cambridge, MA who also teaches seminars worldwide.
© Yoga People LLC 2008
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