|Tittibhasana: The Firefly Pose
by Barbara Benagh
Fire in the Belly
When you're ready, come out of Balasana, sit up, and extend your legs ahead of you. Spread them wide apart for Upavistha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose). Place your hands on the floor behind you for support as you position your pelvis at a right angle to the floor. If you have trouble achieving this, a folded blanket under your buttocks may help. Remain aware of your breathing rhythm, using each exhalation to help root your thigh bones to the floor. Soften your upper thigh, allowing it to move toward the hip joint, seating the femur head and freeing your hamstrings. Your weight should be centered on a line that runs down the backs of the thighs, the calves, and the heels. Elongate your legs and keep your feet active by extending the ball joints of your toes forward.
Once you can sit upright comfortably, move your hands to the floor in front of you. Keeping the thighs grounded, exhale to rotate your pelvis forward. Keep your front body long, your chest broad, and your neck long. At the same time, continue to root the thigh bones. This subtle action generates heat in the abdomen, a prelude to the intense abdominal action that helps you lift your pelvis off the floor in Tittibhasana.
Let’s explore this action more closely. As you sit in Upavistha Konasana, move your pubic bone down–away from your navel and back toward the tailbone–with each exhalation. At the same time, drop your tailbone to meet the pubis. These actions, when done correcty, will generate a distinct firming in your lower abdomen, but achieving the proper balance between these two actions is a sophisticated gesture that can take time and patience to learn. Yogis with tighter bodies will find the pubic bone movement difficult, while those with looser bodies may struggle with keeping the tailbone heavy. But learning to balance these actions is worth your attention and effort; it will result in very valuable internal support for your pelvis and spine.
When you have deepened your forward bend to your maximum, reach out and hold the outer edges of your feet (Figure 1). Now that your hands aren’t on floor, you really need the abdominal support we've been focusing on. Breathing with sufficient intensity will help you engage the marriage of the pubic bone and tailbone. Use the inner rhythm of your breath, especially the exhalation, to support this balanced action; feel your pelvis become light while your thighs remain rooted to the earth.
Even if you're flexible enough to reach the floor with your chest, you can increase the support in your pelvis more by keeping your torso suspended a few inches off the floor. Upavistha Konasana generates heat in the belly; you can amplify this energy by rotating your pelvis forward until you encounter resistance in your inner thighs and then shifting the heat of that resistance from the legs into your belly by intensifying the actions of your pubic bone and tailbone. You may almost feel as though your pelvis could take wing! You will not be able to sustain such intense action in these small muscles for long, so play with it briefly and then ease off to a level of effort that will allow you to stay in Upavistha Konasana for a longer time.
You may have to practice Upavistha Konasana for weeks, months, or even years before you have deep enough pelvic rotation to allow you to do Tittibhasana or its seated sister pose, Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose). Keep in mind that Upavistha Konasana is a wonderful asana in its own right in addition to its role in your journey toward Tittibhasana.
Another excellent stretch that can prepare your hips and lower back for Tittibhasana is a pose I call "Leg over Shoulder". Incidentally, it is also a good overture to forward bends, so you may also practice this exercise before doing Upavistha Konasana. Try it both ways.
Begin by sitting with your legs extended straight out in front of you in Dandasana. Raise your right leg, bend the knee, and hold your right foot with your left hand. Then reach your right arm inside the leg to hold your calf. Breathe in as you lean back slightly and exhale as you push your right leg back, placing it over your upper arm as close to the shoulder as possible.
Continue to hold your foot with your left hand as you put your right hand on the floor. Feel how the position of your leg on the arm requires your back to round. Take a few moments to focus on your back: Keeping your chest broad, consciously release the tight parts of your spine, just as you did in Child's Pose. Next, push your right arm against the leg as the knee hugs your back shoulder; feel how this action creates movement in your hip joint. The head of your femur will shift toward the outer hip and you may feel an internal rotation of the bone inside the joint. Generate a pumping rhythm by rotating your leg and pressing the knee into the shoulder as you exhale; decrease your effort slightly as you inhale. (Is this O.K.?) If you continue this conscientious coordination of breath and movement, you may feel your breath as a wave-like rhythm that helps you gradually deepen your pose without straining or losing your deep internal focus.
Maintaining the alignment of your right leg, exhale and place your left hand on the floor and begin slowly extending your right leg (Figure 2). Do not be surprised if your leg won’t straighten much at all, much less completely. Still, if you exhale and lengthen your leg consciously–if you’re willing to pause consciously often in your efforts, so you can assimilate the stretch–you may be able to progress significantly over the course of several minutes. Continue to rotate your femur, squeezing your knee in toward your the back of your shoulder so your leg doesn’t slide down the arm. Maintaining that action is more important than straightening your leg, since it both helps engage the ligamental plate that supports and protects the lumbar spine and generates heat in your belly.
Straightening your leg in this pose is a prelude to straightening your leg in Tittibhasana. You must be able to balance the effort of maintaining support in your abdomen (by merging your pubic and tail bones) with the surrender of softening the hip (so the leg can rotate in the hip joint and elongate). Hold the leg extended for several breaths; then come out of the pose and repeat it on the other side.
• Strengthens upper body, arms, and wrists
• Tones abdominal organs and muscles
• Improves concentration and coordination
• Carpal tunnel syndrome and similar repetitive stress injuries
• Acute sacro-lumbar strain
© 2001 Barbara Benagh