Rabbit pose—alternately called hare pose, hare headstand, and sasangasana (sometimes written shashankasana)—is an asana that evokes nostalgia for childhood playfulness, a deep connection to nature, and the calm gentleness of bunnies. In Sanskrit the moon is called sasanga, “having the marks of a hare.” If we were to look closely at the moon, perhaps we could find a rabbit-like shadow, and the curled roundness of this pose reflects both moon and rabbit in shape.
I fell in love with this near-inversion because of its controlled stretch of the neck and upper spine. Its relaxing effect on the nervous system is an enormous bonus, and some people even find that practicing rabbit regularly helps them to fall asleep more easily. The throat lock of the pose is touted for its benefit to the thyroid and parathyroid glands, and many yogis find rabbit to be an effective aid for relieving sinus problems and head colds.
I fell in love with this near-inversion because of its controlled stretch of the neck and upper spine.
While it’s best not to practice sasangasana if you have vertigo, neck injuries, glaucoma, or uncontrolled high blood pressure, it offers many of the benefits of sirsasana (headstand) and sarvangasana (shoulderstand), and it may be an excellent alternative for those who prefer to avoid inversions during menstruation or simply want a more calming practice.
Before your practice of sasangasana, loosen up your spine with some cat-cow and other favorite warm-up movements. Sun salutations and warrior poses will also help prepare your spine for rabbit.
While rabbit is considered a counterpose to ustrasana (camel) in some sequences, this transition can be too extreme for many practitioners and may aggravate back conditions. If you decide to do both poses in the same practice, put some gentle twists between the two in order to allow the voluntary muscles of the spine to adapt between postures.
Begin in a high kneeling position on a folded blanket with your knees hip-distance apart. Inhale as you reach back to either cup your heels (with the tops of the feet down or the toes tucked under), or to clasp your calves or ankles with your hands (thumbs facing out).
Exhale as you drop your chin toward the center of your collarbones, slowly bending forward, and place the crown of your head on the floor in front of your knees.
While breathing normally, raise your buttocks as high as possible with your chin pressing against your chest in throat lock (jalandhara bandha) until your thighs are near vertical. Place no more weight on your head than you could press with your hand in order to keep your neck safe. Broaden your shoulder blades and breathe into the back body. Remain in this curled position for three to five breaths.
To come out of the pose, lower your buttocks back toward your heels, release your clasp, and slowly rise on an inhalation with your head lifting up last, coming to vajrasana. Pause here and enjoy the calming effects of the pose. Then move to balasana (child’s pose).
It’s great for training us to breathe through uncomfortable or "tight" situations in life.
If you have a cramp-like “side stitch” in the pose, you may be pushing too hard, which can cause shallow breathing and spasm of the diaphragm muscles. To back off and allow for deeper, longer breaths, move your hips back a bit toward your heels. This pose requires a rather deep contraction of the abdomen and a very round spine, which limits breathing space; it’s great for training us to breathe through uncomfortable or “tight” situations in life. Sasangasana also asks us to assume a shape we rarely spend time in as adults. You'll often see children practice rabbit pose quite naturally, curling inward like a ball.
Rabbit may be practiced before floor twists and forward folds toward the end of your sequence, or it can be done gently right before savasana.
As we spend more time outside in early spring, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of that shadow hare in the moon or even a little bunny hopping through the park. Like children, we can playfully portray what we see in the natural world, and let this soft, round pose connect us to the gentle sweetness of the season.