This pose challenges yet relaxes. The body is raised and held in a reverse plank which works against gravity – which makes it challenging. Relaxing as it allows you to open up the chest and you experience a ‘letting go’ as the head is dropped backwards.
To get into the pose, sit in Dandasana (staff pose), which means sitting upright on the floor with legs flexed at the hip, knees extended, feet dorsi flexed. Both palms are placed on the floor besides the hips and approximately 10 inches behind, fingers pointing in the same direction as the feet. The chest is raised as the shoulders are slightly retracted and the spine is extended so that you are sitting up tall by engaging the muscles in the abdomen.
Next, inhale and raise the body upwards, keeping the feet firmly planted on the floor. The feet will gradually be pointed as the body is raised to the maximum. Extend the elbows to lift the back and lift the hips as high as it can go by squeezing the gluteus muscles. Let your neck drop backwards between the shoulder blades. In the final pose, the shoulders are at approximately 90 degrees to the torso. Breathe slowly and deeply 10 Ujjayi breaths or for as long as you can hold the pose comfortably. Enjoy the feeling of the whole chest open, exposed, filling up with air and head thrown back.
To get out of the pose – Inhale and raise the neck slightly, exhale and lower the hips while flexing the elbows until the hips touch the floor.
For those with neck injuries, refrain from dropping the neck backwards. Just keep it neutral. If it is challenging to keep the body raised due to back injury or weak back muscles – keep the knees bent at 90 degrees to the body in a table top position.
Some muscles that are worked in Purvottanasana are – the deltoids, intercostal muscles in deep breathing, triceps brachii to extend the arms, biceps are in eccentric contraction, gluteus maximus and medius keeping the hips up, the hamstrings contract and quads are also engaged and gastrocnemius or calf muscles contract to point the toes.