Egyptian Pose - Issues and solutions
List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:
Some General Comments :-
I think of this pose as an “alignment pose” in the sense that the joints are aligned either in a
nearly neutral position (i.e. for the semi-movable joints) and/or well within the normal comfortable range (i.e. for the “freely
movable joints). This pose is one that will be comfortable and suitable to anyone who can comfortably sit on a chair – the
comments below are thus about improving alignment within the posture rather than addressing issues that might otherwise limit
one’s ability to practise (or one’s safety in) the pose.
· Thoracic Spine / Chest
· Lumbar Spine
· Chair Height / Leg arrangement
The aim is to have the neck alignment such that the head is balanced (floating) above the midpoint between the shoulders. This is
aided by attending to other aspects of the pose (see below) due to the shape of the neck being heavily influenced by what is happening
in other parts of the spine. Generally, it is helpful to imagine an elongation in the inside back of the neck. Some students might like
to imagine a thread going up to the “heavens” from the crown of the head and from which the head is suspended.
Some people have a tendency to jut the chin forwards and others to lift the chin – in both cases it is helpful to actively draw the
chin inwards (and downwards) towards the front of the neck (rather than thinking in terms of taking the head backwards). This
increases the feeling of elongation of the back of the neck and also, helpfully, tends to straighten the thoracic curve of the spine.
Some people have a tendency to lower their head forwards – in this case thinking in terms of moving the back of the neck
backwards (rather than lifting the head) tends to lead to a better feeling of elongation in the back of the neck and openness in the chest.
The position / shape of the shoulders can have a big effect on breathing, the openness of the chest area (and the shape of thoracic
spine) and on how stressed - or otherwise - one feels. Ideally, there will be a feeling of the shoulders being broad, pointing sideways
and being relaxed (i.e. not lifted). It is helpful to check mentally that the shoulders are pointing sideways. One visualization that might
be helpful is to imagine a thread going sideways from each shoulder with gentle tension / pull : another is to imagine “head lamps”
pointing sideways at the shoulders shining out into the world.
Many have a tendency to hold tension by holding the shoulders lifted. One approach is to imagine letting go of tensions, worries etc,
while feeling the shoulders relax downwards (often on a couple of exhalations). Another approach is to use a visualization such as
imagining weights or hands resting on the shoulders encouraging the shoulders to sink downwards.
Thoracic Spine / Chest
The aim here is to have the chest fluidly open (neither held rigidly open nor scrunched and compressed) and the upper back close to
straight. In most people there is a tendency to allow the upper back to curve and thus allow the front of the chest to become compressed.
The previous comments regarding the neck and shoulders apply here as they have an impact on the thoracic spine and chest.
In those whom the tendency to over-curve the upper back and compress the front of the chest is strong, specific strategies to encourage
the upper back to elongate and the chest to open can be very helpful. For example: consciously lifting the breast-bone forwards and
upwards, or imagining a “headlamp” facing forwards from the chest shining out into the world.
The aim here is to keep the lower back nearly straight, with a strong sense of the weight being passed through the pelvic girdle to the
chair. The comments below on chair height and leg arrangement are relevant here as they have an impact on the positioning of the pelvic
girdle and hence on the shape of the lumbar spine. Generally, it tends to be helpful to imagine the weight transmitted down through the spine,
then the pelvic girdle and into the chair. An alternative is to imagine the vertebrae as cup-shaped objects (hollow side facing down) which
rest on a cushion of air above the next vertebrae below – and then, starting from the base of the spine and going all the way to the top of
the spine, imagine the cushion of air gently expanding a little so that there is a slight elongation of the spine upwards.
Many have a tendency to sit so their lower back curves outwards (convex) – in which case, consciously tilting the pelvic girdle forwards
until the base of the lower back is vertical will usually help. Consciously lifting the breastbone forwards and up will also tend to help.
Some (i.e. those with a strong tendency towards lumbar lordosis) may find they have a tendency to hollow their lower back – consciously
sinking the tailbone downwards helps – as does consciously pressing the feet (especially the heels) downwards.
Chair Height / Leg arrangement
Ideally, the legs will be arranged so that the upper legs are parallel with each other and the floor, and the knees are hip-width apart with
the ankles directly under the knees. The relative height of the knees and hips matter as this has a strong impact on the position of the pelvic
girdle and hence on the shape of the spine. If the knees are lower than the hips then the pelvic girdle tends to tilt forwards – a solution is to
place your feet on something like a yoga bock or books instead of the floor. If the knees are higher than the hips then the pelvic girdle is
encouraged to tilt backwards – a solution is to place a cushion or folded blanket/towel on the chair. Ideally, also, the seat of the chair will
be horizontal – appropriate use of wedge shaped padding can help to reduce difficulties caused by non-horizontal chair seats.
The contact between the feet and what they are resting on can have a big impact on the posture overall. Ideally, the feet will be parallel and
hip-width apart. Consciously pressing down through the feet (particularly through the heel and pads of little and big toe joint) will usually
encourage the spine to elongate upwards and improve spinal alignment.
Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have
heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated
by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to
give a better explanation.