Neutralizers & Counterposes to Bring Balance: Choosing & Arranging Poses

Neutralize vs. Counter

  • Many sources use the terms “neutralize” and “counterpose” interchangeably, recommending that we neutralize the effects of a pose with a counterpose.
  • Other sources differentiate between these terms, which can make it easier to understand how to implement this concept effectively.

Neutral Poses

  • Rodney Yee defines “neutral poses” as those that allow for natural spinal curves and a sense of ease. (Moving Toward Balance 2004 p 356)
  • When neutralizing poses are recommended, it is with the intention that they follow poses of a specific spinal movement, such as backbending, before embarking on a new type such as twisting or forward bending.
  • Neutralizing poses can also serve the purpose of allowing students time to “pause and feel” the effects of previous poses.
  • Another way to think of neutralizing is in relation to asymmetrical poses. After practicing both sides, a symmetrical pose invites a sense of balance.
  • Yee provides examples of neutral poses that include Virasana (Hero Pose)Dandasana (Stick / Staff Pose)Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby) and Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
  • Viniyoga considers forward bends to be “universal neutralizers.”


T.K.V. Desikachar defines a counterpose as the simplest asana that relieves tension created from previous poses.

  1. A key is using the simplest neutralizer. It is not wise to follow a deep backbend with a deep forward bend, for instance. In 5 Common Sequencing Errors, Kathryn Heagberg describes the risk of, for example, hugging knees to chest immediately following a deep backbend.
  2. Counterposes are not applied asana by asana. Typically, countering occurs after a category of poses has been practiced, such as after a series of backbends.

T. K. V. Desikachar provides in-depth coverage and examples of counterposes in The Heart of Yoga1995 pgs 25-37.

T.K.V. Desikachar

For any one asana there may be various counterposes possible, depending on where the tension is felt. Whenever we feel excessive tension in any area of the body after a posture, we must try to alleviate it with a counterpose; that is, the simplest asana that relieves the tension. The counterpose for a powerful forward bend is a gentle back bend. – T.K.V. Desikachar

Forward Bends as Universal Neutralizers

The Viniyoga tradition views forward bends as universal neutralizers for all directional movements of the spine. The forward bends are considered the “the hub of the wheel,” with back bends, lateral bends and twists forming the spokes of the wheel. It means that we would never place a backbend and lateral bend next to each other, or a backbend next to a twist—there always will be a forward bend of some sort in between. – Olga Kabel

A Pause in the Action to Digest

Visualize a sequence of poses building one to the next and then when you reach a crescendo of that particular energy, insert something that balances it. I call these “digest it” moments. They aren’t always about taking rest, sometimes they are just a pause or a shift in the action to allow the students to digest the experience you’ve just co-created with them. – Gina Caputo

Choosing Appropriate Counterposes

[After] holding a yin posture for a long period… time is needed to allow the tissues to regain their normal stability, but the amount of time required can be reduced through appropriate counterposes. A counterpose moves the body in the opposite direction of the previous stresses. After flexing the spine for several minutes, do a short extension. After external rotation, do internal rotation. Notice that counterposes are not held as long, nor move the body as deep as the original pose, because then the counterpose would require another counterpose and we enter an infinite loop of counterposes needing counterposes… From tables 2 and 3, the selection of counterposes are easy to determine. If you have held an external rotation for 5 minute, select a short internal rotation from the postures listed. After flexions, choose some extension. Twists generally are their own counterposes through doing the opposite side. –

Don’t Alternate Between Pose and Counterpose

Don’t alternate back and forth between forward bends and back bends. It is true that one good way to wind down from a session of back bends is to use a few gentle forward bends to recover and refresh the spine. However, one way that yoga was taught, especially in the early days of yoga in the West, was that you should alternate “pose and counter-pose,” moving back and forth between a forward bend and a back bend to move the spine in both directions.  Generally, this is not a good practice… One pose should lead you into the next pose by means of its similarity with the next pose, not by means of opposition. – Brad Priddy

Neutralize, Integrate, Refine & Deepen

The objective of pratikriyasana is to integrate prior actions in a way that prepares students to move forward into the next asana, sequence, class, or later activity free of tension and as balanced and blissful as possible. This principle is often applied with its literal meaning of “opposite action,” “counterpose,” or “counteraction.” This can be problematic, especially when applied asana by asana. For example, in this narrow conception of pratikriyasana… the opposite of Sirsasana I (Headstand) would be Tadasana or Urdhva Hastasana, likely causing some students to become dizzy and possibly fall, and in any case not giving the simplest path to the release of accrued tension and thus the integration of the asana. What we want to do instead is to neutralize, integrate, refine, and deepen along a path in which successively sequenced asanas are similar, not opposite, while being attentive to releasing accumulated tension. There are many ways to sequence asanas for effective pratikriyasana. Generally, first offer students the simplest form of a neutralizing asana, and then offer variations or successively more complex asanas to reduce accumulated tension and restore overall stability and ease. Rather than approaching pratikriyasana asana by asana, it is better to take a broader view of entire practices, considering where, in the small sequences that make up an entire class, neutralizing and opposing asanas can help students to integrate their practice. –