The Mythology Behind Halasana (Plow Pose)
When Lord Vishnu took a human birth as Rama, Lakshmi Devi had to come too as Rama's wife, Sita. These two, Vishnu and Lakshmi, are eternal consorts. As preserver of the universe, Vishnu assumed the role of a ruler, and Lakshmi his queen and the very shakti (power) by which he ruled. Lakshmi is deeply associated with royalty, leadership, spiritual authority, intelligence, abundance, and the ability to transcend limitations. She always incarnates as Vishnu's partner in upholding the world and protecting dharma (universal order).
The Story of Halasana (Plow Pose)
King Janaka was a karma yogi (one who follows the path of service). Janaka's care for his people included care for the land, and he worked the fields like any farmer. One day when he was plowing he spied something moving in the furrow ahead. Afraid he might have disturbed the habitat of some small animal, he stopped and looked. No, not an animal. This small creature was not furry. King Janaka bent down, and, in wonder, lifted a beautiful baby girl from the seet (furrow) that his plow had drawn in the earth. Her large solemn eyes regarded him calmly. “Hello, daughter,” said King Janaka. The baby smiled. “You will be Sita,” he told her, “because you were born in a seet.”
To say that Sita was born from a furrow of the earth is another way of saying that we come to understand our own spiritual nature through the medium of the body.
As the daughter of the Mother Earth, Sita represents the physical dimension of the universe, prakriti, just as Rama personifies purusha, consciousness. This entire creation, the sages say, springs from the love-play between these two principles. To say that Sita was born from a furrow of the earth is another way of saying that we come to understand our own spiritual nature through the medium of the body. When Sita grew up, King Janaka held a huge festival, a swayamvara, for her to choose her husband. Of course, it was her destiny to reunite with Lord Vishnu in this birth, as in every birth, and, of course, she chose Rama—but that is another story.
Getting Into Halasana (Plow Pose)
Halasana (plow pose) is closely related to salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand).
- Fold three firm blankets to the same width as your mat and place them on top of your mat with the smooth edges aligned. These edges will help you to maintain space between the back of your neck and the floor, preserving the cervical curve and keeping your chin from jamming into your chest.
- Place a block, bolster, or thickly folded blanket at or near the foot end of the folded blankets, where the loose edges are. (Exact placement of the prop depends on your torso length in relation to the blankets, but make sure it's on the mat rather than on the blankets.)
- Sit on this lift and lie back over the blankets with your shoulders 2 to 3 inches below the smooth edges and the back of your head on the floor. (When you come up, your weight will shift in the direction of your head; if you are too close to the edge of the blankets, your shoulders will slide off.) Place your arms at your sides, palms down.
- Press your upper arms down toward the floor, and on an exhale, bend your knees in toward your chest. Now bend your elbows, bring your hands to your back, and, on an inhale, swing your legs up until your torso is perpendicular to the floor and your legs are perpendicular as in shoulderstand.
- Bring your arms to the floor behind you. Interlace your fingers and press your arms into the floor, from shoulder to wrist. Come onto the tops of your shoulders. If your shoulders are now off the blankets, come down and start over. Once you’re up, the top edge of your shoulders should be on the blankets. Make sure there is still space between the back of your neck and the floor.
- On an exhale, lower your feet to the floor behind your head. Keep your legs straight. Make your spine perpendicular to the floor. Press the tops of your shoulders down to lift your ribs. Lift the tops of your thighs toward the ceiling. Walk your feet toward your head, and notice if this makes your torso more vertical and lifts you more onto the tops of your shoulders. Be sensitive to C-7 (the prominent vertebra at the base of the neck); find a position that leaves it free of pressure even if that position is not totally perpendicular. Ask a practice partner to help you check.
- Unclasp your hands and walk them further down your back toward your shoulder blades. Keeping your elbows close to your ribs, press your upper back in, moving your sternum toward your chin but still maintaining the space behind your neck. Soften your eyes and gaze toward your breastbone.
- Lift the your inner groins to lengthen your side waist. Keeping your feet on the floor, lift your thigh bones toward the ceiling. Breathe.
- To come out, walk your feet toward your head. Continuing to support your back with your hands, bend your knees and roll your spine down, vertebra by vertebra, to the floor.
- On an exhale, roll to your right side and stay for several breaths. Finally, take your left hand to the floor and raise yourself up to a seated position. Keep your head down as you roll up.
Cautions for Halasana (Plow Pose)
Avoid plow pose if you are menstruating, if you have neck or shoulder problems, or if it creates pressure in the eyes. Be sure that you are resting your weight on your shoulders, not on C-7. Once you are in plow pose, do not turn your head.
If your back body or hamstrings are too tight to take your feet to the floor behind your head, consider taking your feet to blocks, to the seat of a chair, or to a wall (in which case you will set up with the crown of your head facing the wall). Having your feet on the floor makes this an intermediate-to-advanced pose; if you're a beginner, start with plenty of support and decrease the height as your flexibility increases.
Modifications for Halasana (Plow Pose)
If you must avoid inversions due to neck, shoulder, or eye issues, you may be able to practice supta pashchimottanasana as a safe alternative. Lie on your back, lift your legs, and bring your feet over your head to the floor or to the appropriate height. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor. You will still get a great stretch in your back body and experience many of the benefits of plow pose, such as stimulating your internal organs and relieving stress.
What does this pose reveal about how you handle restrictions or limitations?
Does your breathing feel restricted in this pose? Notice if you tighten your throat or harden your eyes. Does it feel as if you're only breathing into your upper lungs? Pay attention to the lower back lungs. See how much space you have! What does this pose reveal about how you handle restrictions or limitations?
Reflections during Halasana (Plow Pose)
King Janaka, caring for his physical environment, discovered the goddess. When you nurture your body/mind through the sustained, focused practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation, what does the plow-point of your attention turn up? Maybe rocks, roots, and worms at first—but this story tells us that the gift of the divine feminine is there too.
How has your practice helped you to discover what lies under the surface of your body and mind?
To unearth the “hidden treasures” in your body and mind, you have to do your own practice—not someone else's, even if their practice seems preferable (Bhagavad Gita 18.47). Do you need to modify this pose to discover its real benefits?
How does this pose foster persistence and concentration over a long, sustained time (Yoga Sutra 1.14)?
A plow creates order in a field: It makes straight furrows to house and protect the seeds, just as a mantra creates patterns in your mind and protects your thoughts. You must control the pressure and speed and direction of the plow, just as a meditator controls the speed and direction of thoughts and breath. There's a story of the Buddha's childhood that says he received his first insights into meditation by watching a farmer plow. Observing the tip of the plow meet the earth, not too deep, not too shallow, and the long, smooth unfolding of each furrow, each one a match for the one before and the one after it, created a sense of deep calm and alert attention in the young Gautama. Just as regular meditation calls forth jewels of insight from the mind and brings us closer to our real nature, the plow creates deep, long, smooth, even channels in the earth and may even reveal hidden treasure.
Do you meditate with a mantra? How does it help you to “weed out” certain thought patterns and cultivate others?
Zo Newell, Ph.D., ERYT 500, was introduced to yoga as a child by Dr. Rammurti Mishra (Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati). She earned her Ph.D. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2011, with a dissertation on goddess images as a unifying cultural symbol for India's emerging national identity. She is the author of the award-winning book Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis (Himalayan Insitute, 2007). A former hospital chaplain and trauma counselor, Zo was a regular... Read more>>