Pose Breakdown: Sphinx/Seal

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Nancy Nelson

Happy Monday, yin friends!

Today we are talking about a pose that’s awesome for restoring natural curvature in your low back. Because we tend to “sit” our days away – whether driving in our cars, sitting at our desks or playing on the ground with kiddos – we find the low back tends to round out rather than draw in toward the midline as it was intended to do. See the diagrams below:









The second image shows the difference between a healthy spine (that follows correct “lordodic” curvature) and a spine that has a “kyphotic” curve which causes more of a rounded out shape is usually enhanced from sitting with lack of core engagement and slumping forward for long periods of time. Poses like our sphinx and seal are meant to help restore this “lordodic” curvature. Keeping your low back healthy will affect how healthy the rest of your spine will be and will help to improve your posture so you can prevent issues in the future!

Let’s get started…

Sphinx Pose









Make your way to your belly. Begin to prop yourself up onto your forearms with the elbows situated beneath the shoulders. Your hands can simply rest onto the floor or you can bring the palms together out in front of you if it’s more comfortable. From here, as long as you don’t have any issues within the cervical spine (neck) you can release your head down and perhaps even relax it onto a block. You can also keep the crown of the head reaching forward and up instead of relaxing it down.


  • DON’T RUSH – The point of the posture is to find resistance and breathe through it. Rushing beyond your sensations is not only physically unsafe but it’s robbing you from the true experience of release.
  • DETAILS – Gently press into the tops of the feet (untucked on the floor) to the floor and avoid squeezing the glutes here to protect the low back.


  1. Elevate it! | To intensify this stretch you can lift to full seal pose by walking the hands out wider than shoulder width, then press into the palms to lift the elbows. If that’s too much on your low back – maybe elevate to a blanket, bolster or a couple of blocks in your sphinx pose.
  2. Angle the elbows | To alleviate any intensity that might be too much in this posture, begin to inch the elbows forward of the shoulders a bit.
  3. At the wall | You can take your shins up the wall to add a little more intensity to this release if you don’t want to go higher. This variation might feel best with the elbows forward a bit.

Sphinx Pose - Blanket Variation Sphinx Pose - On Blocks

Bottom photo shows hands wider and turned out.
Bottom photo shows hands wider and turned out.

Sphinx Pose - Elbows ForwardSphinx Pose - Legs Up Wall






























  • Restores natural curvature in the lumbar (lower) spine and helps release connective tissue buildup in the sacral-lumbar region.
  • Stretches the stomach tissues and massages internal organs (especially in the seal pose variation)


  • Stimulates the urinary and kidney lines via the low back and sacrum. Stomach and spleen meridians are also affected because of the stretch through the hip flexors.
  • Burst of natural energy: Backbends tend to create a natural surge of energy for the mind and body. If your heart rate rises while in this posture, breathe deeply and connect to a grounding mantra. After the posture, rest on the belly for a moment and observe the effect of this energy on the mind/body.

USE CAUTION: Contraindications for this posture include…

  • Vertebral issues in the lumbar spine/SI joint. Be sure to support yourself using props so you are careful not to strain these already sensitive parts of the body.
  • Ouch!. If you feel any kind of sharp, shooting pains – come out and then find a variation that only brings forth a stretching sensation – rather than a pinching one.
  • Pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you can elevate your hips onto a bolster (large pillow) so that the belly doesn’t make contact with the floor. Or you could take a supported bridge pose.
Bridge Pose (Supported)
Supported Bridge pose









HOLD: 4-5 minutes, depending on your own personal needs. Come down very slowly from this posture (as with any yin pose).


Relax on your belly. Half frog is a nice option as well as childs pose (for a countering forward fold).

Childs Pose
Childs Pose
On the belly, open the arms out to the sides like cactus arms. Begin to slide the left knee up toward the left elbow. Rest for several minutes then move to the other side.
Half Frog: On the belly, open the arms out to the sides like cactus arms. Begin to slide the left knee up toward the left elbow. Rest for several minutes then move to the other side.


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7 Responses

  1. Love this article. Love how you get into the anatomical benefits and love your spine illustrations (where can I find these kinds of illustrations?). So is Sphinx pose different than cobra? And half frog…love that one. I’m a new teacher and I have a really late time slot on a Wednesday pm. So I’d like to do an easy flow followed by more restorative poses. I’m wondering what the difference is between Yin yoga and restorative yoga. I enjoy both types but often wonder how they are different. Yes, I’m really analytical! Again thanks for the article! Andrea

    1. Hi micro yogi! Those illustration images are from google. I looked up “kyphotic lumbar spine” and just “spine curvature”. You’ll find tons of similar images with those search terms.

      Sphinx is different from cobra yes. In sphinx your forearms are down and hands are in front of the shoulders on the floor. In cobra, your hands are more underneath the shoulders and the elbows lift. You could probably google the difference as well and find some photos and illustrations.

      Yin is considered “hatha” yoga rather than restorative – in my book. But there are a lot of views on that topic that are worth considering. Here’s a great article from yinyoga.com: http://www.yinyoga.com/newsletter13_restorativeyin.php

      Hope that helps!! Thanks for saying hi😊

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Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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