For this summer month I would like to explore a seated forward bend pose called Janu Sirsasana. If practiced correctly, this pose can be wonderfully calming and cooling for our nervous system- ideal for hot summer days.
Janu Sirsasana is very often translated as a Head-to-Knee Pose. After a bit of research I came across another English translation—Head-of –Knee Pose. If we practice the ‘head-to-knee’ aspect, most likely we will have a pose with a rounded spine which is not a good thing. In a 1982 Yoga Journal article, Judith Lasater justifies the ‘head-of-knee’ aspect as that we need to practice the pose with strongly drawing up the kneecap. The Yoga Art and Science blog by Withold Fitz-Simon also uses this translation and explains the head of the knee as referring to the bent knee of the pose.
for 1. Dandasana/Staff Pose
- Sit on your mat with your legs extended out in front of you. This is Dandasana/Staff Pose. With both hands take a hold of the back of your right knee. Don’t engage the muscle of your right leg as you use your hands to bend the right knee and pull it back behind you as far as you can without moving your pelvis back too much.
for 2. and 3.
- Either have the right foot touching the inner left thigh-similar to Vrksasana/Tree Pose for a more basic form of the pose- or allow the right heel to touch the inner right thigh for a more advanced variation (here the knee is taken further back behind you).
- Place your hands onto the floor next to your outer hips with the fingers pointing forward. As you press your thighs and hands down onto the floor you have good leverage to lengthen the sides of your trunk and to lift your chest. Be even on both sitting bones. Turn your trunk to face your extended leg.
- On an inhale reach your arms up to the ceiling. In this position you will work strongly to lift your rib cage away from the hips. Notice as you reach up through your pinkie finger how the front body lengthens, and as you actively reach up through your thumbs how your back ribs lift out of the lower back.
for 5. and 6. and 7.
- Inhale again as you strongly pull the sides of your feet back. With this pulling, work on bringing the back ribs into the body (make your upper back concave) and lift your chest more by pulling the lower abdomen in towards the spine and upward. Keep lengthening the front of your torso.
- Keep reaching your pubic bone towards the bent leg and revolve your navel and sternum towards the straight leg.
Coming into the pose:
for 8. and 9. and 10.
- There is a tendency for the bent leg side sitting bone to become light, so lean into the bent leg side and then on an exhale, release your torso fully over your extended leg. On your way down keep resisting the collar bones away from the floor as you reach the bottom of your sternum (breast bone) forward over your leg and down. (this action will allow you to work on a long front body in the forward bend to avoid on excessive rounding of the spine)
Bend your elbows out to the sides. Keep lifting them away from the floor (this will help preventing rounding in upper back) and reach them forward (this will help reaching the trunk forward over your extended leg)
Being in the pose:
- Stretch the bent leg side out and down. The straight leg kneecap and toes point up to the ceiling.
Both inner thighs reach out towards the inner knees and the outer knees pull back to the outer hips.
- Work actively on lengthening the torso side of the extended leg. Keep turning the bent knee side ribs towards and the extended leg side ribs away from the floor, trying to get your back body level.
Coming out of pose:
- Stay in the pose for about 20 s. Then inhale to bring the trunk back upright. Sit in Dandasana /Staff Pose again. Then repeat all for the left side.
Modifications and variations:
- If your hamstrings are tight, use a belt as an arm extender
- If your hamstrings are tight and you cannot sit upright without rounding your lower back, sit on blankets so can sit tall easily
- if the bent knee is floating in the air, support it with blankets or a yoga block
- Janu Sirsasana with a chair:
the chair helps you sit upright by pulling the sides of the backrest down
keep reaching the bottom of side ribs toward armpits for length in the trunk. Resting the forehead on the chair seat is very restorative.
- Yoga in Action: Preliminary Course by Geeta Iyengar, published by YOG, Mumbai, India, 2000
- Yoga, the Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta, published by A. Knopf, New York, 2008
- The different variations and the prep work were inspired by the Iyengar classes I attend regularly
Katja Huiras is a 500 hr certified Yoga teacher who teaches alignment based yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.