Locust pose, known as shalabasana in Sanskrit, is an unassuming, yet challenging baby backbending pose that tones the muscles of the back, pelvis, and buttocks. Although the many variations of locust pose target various muscle groups, this pose is particularly beneficial for the pelvic region as it strengthens the surrounding muscles and spontaneously triggers vajroli mudra i.e. contraction of the urethral muscles.
- Begin lying on your stomach on the mat. Rest your forehead comfortably on the floor. Extend your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Bring your knees and ankles together and, pointing your toes, rest the tops of your feet on the mat.
- Lying on the mat, rotate your thigh muscles internally by turning the tops of your thighs towards each other. Internal rotation engages the tensor fascia lata and the gluteus minimus. Keep the rotation subtle to avoid gripping.
- Spoon your tailbone towards your navel on the mat. Maintain this pelvic tilt throughout the pose to avoid compressing your lower back in the backbend. A pelvic tilt keeps the back long.
- Inhale. Lift your head, shoulders, chest, arms, and legs off the mat. Roll your shoulder blades together and down to open your chest. Keep your knees and ankles as close together as possible.
- Keep your chin tucked and look straight forward or slightly down to avoid compressing the neck.
- Keep your arms close to your body, palms facing downwards or inwards. Stretch back through your fingertips to bring the shoulders higher.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale. Release your forehead, shoulders, chest, arms, and legs to the mat.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Cushion your hips with a folded blanket. Ultimately, the lower belly and hips take all your bodyweight in locust pose. This can be uncomfortable. Place a folded blanket beneath your hips to cushion them.
Protect your neck by propping up your head. If your neck is prone to injury, locust pose can place undo strain on weak neck muscles. Protect your neck by resting your forehead on a prop (placed horizontally) during the pose.
Interlace your hands behind your back to open the chest. For a more intense heart opener, in step six (above) bring your palms together behind your back and interlace your fingers. Roll your shoulder blades together and down and actively pull your arms back to open your chest.
Locust with no hands. To support your lower back, keep your arms grounded. Instead of lifting your arms in step four (above), keep your palms pressed firmly into the mat. Particularly if you’re a beginner at locust pose, this modification protects your back from compression and allows you to focus on extending the back instead.
To vary your workout, lift one leg at a time. If you’re seeking a new challenge, try practicing locust one leg at a time. In step four (above), lift your head, your shoulders, your chest, and only your right leg. Keep your arms pressed against the mat for support. After step eight, repeat and lift the left leg.
Swarmi Satyananda Saraswati’s Locust Pose (Shalabasana). This variation of locust pose from the legendary yogi eliminates the heart opening portion of the pose, focusing entirely on strengthening the quadriceps, obliques, abdominals, and pelvic muscles. In step one (above), rest on your chin, instead of your forehead. In step four, only lift your legs. Send them as high as your can. Support this upward motion with your arms. Either press your palms actively into the mat or ball your hands into fists and press them actively into the mat.
Swarmi Satyananda Saraswati’s Locust Pose, Variation I (Matsyasana). This variation is, essentially, flying locust. In step one (above), extend your arms in front of you with your palms facing down, like Superman. Plant your chin on the mat. In step four, raise your extended arms, your head, your shoulders, your chest, and your legs. Turn your palms inwards so they face each other.
Crocodile pose (Makarasana). This variation is one of three different poses known by the Sanskrit name makarasana (literally, sea monster). This is a challenging locust variation that opens the chest and works the lower back muscles. In step six (above), bend your elbows and interlace your hands together behind your head. Press your elbows back as you lift the chest higher. Beware compressing the back in this intense variation.
The benefits of locust pose are not limited to the pelvic region, although that’s where much of the pose’s unique strengthening is concentrated. The gluteus maximus is the prime mover, which means a well-toned bottom. The pose stretches the abdominal organs, improving digestion and stimulating appetite, according to yogic lore.
In locust pose, the body spontaneously performs vajroli mudra i.e. contraction of the urethral muscles. This action tones the pelvic floor to prevent incontinence and other disorders. Vajroli mudra is an important practice in Kundalini yoga.
Do not attempt locust pose if you:
- have a weak heart.
- have a blood clot.
- have high blood pressure.
- have a peptic ulcer.
- have a hernia.
- have intestinal tuberculosis.
Conventionally, locust pose is the midpoint between the backbending poses cobra pose (bhujangasana) and bow pose (dhanurasana). Because cobra pose is about heart opening and locust pose is about leg raising, bow pose is the natural combination of both.
The ideal counterposes for locust are restive. The other crocodile pose is great between sets of locust pose. For this pose, place your hands under your chin while laying on the mat and windshield wipe your lower legs from side to side.
Anterior neck muscles. The anterior neck muscles include the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, and hyoids in the front of the neck. These muscles are associated with, among other things, extending and rotating the head. In variations where the chin is planted on the mat, particularly, locust pose lengthens these muscles.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. Locust pose strengthens the erector spinae muscles deep in the back.
Pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles run between your legs, from the pubic bone to the base of the spine. They support the bladder, rectum, and (in women) the vagina and uterus. Locust pose spontaneously triggers vajroli mudra, i.e. contraction of the urethral muscles.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. In locust pose, the gluteus maximus does the heavy lifting. For optimal results, avoid clenching the buttocks as you lift your legs. The gluteal muscles should be firm in the pose, but not hard. Internally rotating the thighs also engages the gluteus minimus.
Trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscle extends from the back of the head to the shoulder blade. It is partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. When you roll the shoulder blades back in locust pose, the trapezius muscle engages.
Latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi muscles are located in the mid-back. They rotate and extend the shoulder joint. Locust pose strengthens the lats, which engage when you open the chest.
Multifidus muscles. The multifidus muscles in the deep back run along either side of the vertebrae and stabilize the joints of the spine. Weak multifidus muscles are a cause of back pain. Locust pose strengthens these two important muscles.