The Stress-Relief Secret of a Crocodile
Bill Ryan, PhD
May 14, 2018
Looking for a fast, easy way to unwind from the stress of the day? The crocodile pose (makarasana) may be just what you need. As the scientific community has known for years, deep, diaphragmatic breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response. The main purpose of the crocodile pose is to train us to breathe this way, so that we can relax. In fact, it is difficult to avoid breathing diaphragmatically in this posture. Resting in crocodile for 5–10 minutes has an amazingly calming effect on both body and mind.
This is an easy pose for beginners and a great daily relaxation exercise for anyone. Practicing crocodile over time encourages a greater awareness of how you’re breathing, as well as a deepening sense of relaxation. To give this pose a try, follow these simple steps:
1. Lie on your belly on a blanket or a mat.
2. Extend your legs and spread them about shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider), making sure your legs and feet are comfortable. Toes can be turned either out or in. If it is more comfortable, you can keep your legs together.
3. Fold your arms by placing each hand on the opposite elbow. Draw the arms in and rest your forehead on your forearms, so that your chest is slightly off the floor.
4. Close your eyes and relax your legs, abdomen, shoulders, and face. Allow yourself to be supported by the floor, making adjustments until you are comfortable.
5. Focus your attention on your breath. Feel your belly pressing into the floor as you inhale, and feel it drawing up as you exhale. Remember that each inhalation is rejuvenating and each exhalation is cleansing.
6. Notice how the lower side ribs and lower back expand with each inhalation and contract with each exhalation.
7. Relax in this pose for 5–10 minutes, keeping your attention focused on your breath. When you feel restored, come out of the posture slowly.
Not everyone may be comfortable in this pose at first. Here are a couple of modifications to ease any discomfort, while still providing the benefits of the original pose:
1. Experiment with moving your folded arms further away from you or toward your chest. Moving them away from you will bring your upper chest closer to the floor and will reduce the arch in the lower back. This may help relieve any tension in the lower back, shoulders, or neck. Moving your arms toward you will cause your upper chest to lift higher off the floor.
2. Use props: Roll up a blanket so that it looks like a long tube, and then bend it into a “U” shape. Turn the “U” upside down and place the curved part of the blanket under your upper chest, with the two sides of the “U” along (but not under) the sides of the chest. Make sure the blanket is not touching your throat. Then rest your forehead on another blanket or cushion, leaving your face and neck free. Rest your arms by your sides or in a goalpost position overhead.
Whether you start with one of the modifications or with the basic posture, try the crocodile pose for a few weeks and notice the benefits of breathing like a crocodile.
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