Know the Asana: Makarasana (crocodile pose)

Makarasana is a relaxation asana with a backward bend.

Physiological basis of benefits

The direct effects of makarasana are mainly on the musculo-skeletal system. The whole spinal column undergoes a backward bend, with an emphasis on the lumbar and cervical regions. If the elbows are positioned close to the body, the lumbar region is more affected and if the elbows are placed away from the body, the neck area is more influenced. The position of the feet influences the tone of the lumbar and deep pelvic muscles. Therefore, one needs to identify the optimal position for oneself, depending on the area to be worked on and what feels comfortable.

Normally, in the upright posture the weight of the body is transmitted through the spinal column, producing a compressing effect, especially on the discs. The backward bend gives more space to the inter-vertebral discs, releasing the compression. Besides, weight is a function of gravity, and in a lying down position, as in makarasana, the pull of gravity is transmitted from the abdomen and thighs to the ground. It is therefore a very useful posture in cases of disc prolapse and sciatica.

Makarasana stretches the anterior spinal muscles situated deep within the abdomen, chest and neck, relieving fatigue and aches in these areas. In the case of an underlying inflammation, as in spondylitis, inflammation of the spinal joints, these muscles go into spasm.

Makarasana stretches the muscles, thereby releasing muscular spasm and providing relief in backache. Forward bending asanas like shashankasana or halasana similarly stretch the posterior spinal muscles. The combination of makarasana with shashankasana influences all the paraspinal muscles responsible for an erect posture.

In a variation of makarasana, the heels are bent and brought near the buttocks. Increased pressure is felt in the lower back area and the quadriceps muscles in front of the thighs are stretched to their maximum, relieving fatigue and aching.

In short, makarasana can be of help in any type of backache, except in the case of spondylo-listhiasis, a condition where one vertebra inadvertently slides over the subsequent one. Backward bending tends to increase this sliding movement and so is contra-indicated. Gentle forward bending with a support as in supta pawanmuktasana is useful in such cases.

The parasympathetic nervous system is activated and the normal state of sympathetic preponderance is reversed. As a result, the heart rate and blood pressure move towards the lower range of normal values, leading to restful activity for the heart and better circulation at the cellular level. At the same time, the digestive system is activated, inducing healthy peristalsis and an increased secretion of digestive juices. The thyroid gland is gently compressed, improving metabolic activities in the body. The large intestine and female reproductive system are gently massaged.

Benefits on prana and the mind

Relaxation in the muscular system of the whole body leads to relaxation and introversion of the mind. In makarasana, the respiration becomes slow, deep and more efficient. When the awareness is rotated up and down the spine in synchronization with the breath, then prana is activated. The activated prana may be useful in healing physical problems. It may bring about alert but profound relaxation as well as spiritual benefits.

Makarasana is the only non-meditative asana in which brahmari pranayama and ajapa japa dharana can be practiced for a short time. It is also the only relaxation asana in which it is not possible to fall asleep due to the upright position of the neck and head. Unless the neck muscles are fully relaxed, sleep cannot be induced, or conversely, the moment one falls asleep, the neck muscles will relax completely. In makarasana, the practitioner remains awake and alert while being physically relaxed.

In this posture, the mind becomes calm and introverted, and it is therefore useful in counteracting states of anxiety. When the awareness is shifted from the spine or any part of the body to the mind space, then a mild shambhavi mudra may happen automatically. The calm but aware state thus induced is ideal for contemplation. Many children and young people use the posture spontaneously for reading and then deliberating on the material just studied.