Supta Baddhakonasana: Rest and Digest
As daylight hours wane, all living things naturally turn inward. Autumn is the time of inward and downward flow. In autumn, we hunker down, settle into our roots, and let go of what is no longer needed.
As trees release of their leaves and plants turn brown and brittle, we also let go of the high-energy vibrancy of the sun’s radiance, in favor of the muted light of its more oblique rays. Consciously or subconsciously, we often mourn the seeming loss of summer’s vitality. But it’s the time of letting go and drawing inward that restores our prana and allows us all to “spring” forth as the days begin to lengthen again.
Chinese medical philosophy associates autumn with the lungs and large intestine. Both these organs are concerned with processing the nourishment we take in through air, water and food, and letting go those components of what we consume that do not nourish us. Both organs are also associated with grief—the faculty that allows us to respond to loss in our emotional lives. Last month’s pose focused on supporting the function of the lungs. This month’s pose will feature the large intestine.
How Elimination Keeps Us Happy
The large intestine is the end of the line in terms of the long tube that forms our digestive systems. Downward-moving energy defines its function. The large intestine absorbs water from indigestible food matter and prepares it for its final destination, outside the body.
The large intestine often gets a bit of a bad rap—if it is discussed at all in polite company. A wise friend of mine once told me that the old adage, “You are what you eat“ is not quite as accurate as a lesser-known one, “You are what you don’t poop.” Distasteful as it might seem to put it this way, it’s actually quite true; we are made up of those things we hold onto. So what we think of as a disgusting, unmentionable process defines us—and keeps us healthy and clear—physically and mentally. As Sogyal Rinpoche said when he visited Salt Lake many years ago, “Freedom does not come from acquisition, it comes from letting go.” This is true in all aspects of our lives, from the food we eat and expel to the limiting beliefs we acquire and later release.
Because November begins the traditional season of over-consumption, I’ve chosen Supta Baddhakonasana as this month’s pose. Supta Baddhakonasana is one of only a small handful of yoga poses that are appropriate to practice after eating. By expanding the abdomen, it facilitates the flow of energy and food matter into the lower quadrants of the abdomen, where the small and large intestines live. In my experience, the spaciousness this pose creates helps stimulate movement to assist the let-go process.
Supta Baddhakonasana relieves the contracted or heavy sensation we often feel after over-eating, and can relieve menstrual cramps. Because this pose is very relaxing, it helps move us into the “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) side of our autonomic nervous system, which stimulates digestion and helps counter the sometimes stressful effects of the traditional holiday onslaught of busyness and relatives.
Using just three blankets or a bolster, blanket and block, you can make Supta Baddhakonasana quite comfortable. Try both options to see which feels better to you.
Option 1: Three Blankets
To practice with just blankets, round up three firm blankets and a yoga mat. Quilts, wool, Mexican or cotton blankets are best. Fold one of your blankets into a bolster shape—long enough to support your back from the lumbar to the head and approximately eight to ten inches wide. Set this blanket on your mat lengthwise.
Fold your second blanket so that it is about two inches thick. Place it crosswise toward the end of your first blanket closest to the “head” of your mat.
Start with your third blanket folded so that it is about 36 to 40 inches wide. If you are using standard wool or Mexican yoga blankets, your blanket will be folded in quarters. Set it in front of you so that the wide side is closest to you (in computer vernacular, you’ll be looking at a “landscape” rather than “portrait” shape). Roll the blanket up so that you are making a long “snake,” 36 to 40 inches wide.
Sit in front of blanket #1 so that your rear is barely grazing the front end of it. Place the soles of your feet together in Baddha Konasana. Draw your heels in toward your groins so that they are four to 10 inches away, and let your knees fall out to the sides. Place the center of your “snake” on top of your feet and tuck its ends under your ankles and thighs so that it lifts and supports your legs. If the bend is too much for your knees, scoot your heels out a few inches, away from your groins. You can also try propping the knees a bit higher with thinly folded blankets, in addition to your snake.
Now lie back on blanket #1 and adjust blanket #2 so that it is under your head and neck, with its front end touching the tops of your shoulders. Let your arms rest at about a 45-degree angle to your body with your palms turned upward. To see a short blanket-folding video demonstration, go to https://pubs.zipadi.com/catalyst_1011/p/34 and click on the main photo on the left-hand page.
Option 2: Bolster, Block and Blanket
If you have a bolster and block (our Standard Bolster works best), you can use these in place of blankets #1 and 2. Place your block crosswise, either flat or on its side, near the “head” end of your mat. Place one end of your bolster on top of it so that the bolster sits at a slant with the head side of the bolster elevated. Sit in front of the end of the bolster that is on the floor with your buttocks barely touching the bolster.
Fold your blanket so that it is about 36 to 40 inches wide. If you are using standard wool or Mexican yoga blankets, your blanket will be folded in quarters. Set it in front of you so that the wide side is closest to you (in computer vernacular, you’ll be looking at a “landscape” rather than “portrait” shape). Roll the blanket up so that you are making a long “snake,” 36 to 40 inches wide.
Place the soles of your feet together in Baddhakonasana. Draw your heels in toward your groins any amount, making sure your knees feel comfortable. Let your knees fall out to the sides. Place the center of your “snake” on top of your feet and tuck its ends under your ankles and thighs so that it lifts and supports your legs. If the bend is too much for your knees, scoot your heels out a few inches, away from your groins. You can also try propping the knees a bit higher with thinly folded blankets, in addition to your snake. Lie back on your bolster so that your whole torso is supported and your head is resting on the high end.
Let your body settle completely into your blankets or bolster. Now inhale deeply into your abdomen, allowing it to expand fully in all directions. Imagine that your breath is massaging your abdominal organs. Exhale completely, so that you are releasing all the breath each time. Continue to breathe deeply for a minute or two, and then let your body relax into to natural breathing. You can stay in Supta Baddhakonasa for five to 20 minutes. The longer you stay, the more your body will settle into it, and the more deeply and completely your body will rest.
You can practice Supta Baddhakonasana any time, not just when you are experiencing abdominal discomfort. It’s restorative for your body and mind no matter what your circumstances. Try practicing it every day for a week or a month. This subtle but powerful pose can bring grace to your holidays and your life.