Janu Sirsasana with a Chair: Fold Deeper with Alignment, Patience and Ease
Article At A Glance
Janu Sirsasana is a classic forward fold that many practitioners struggle with; here’s how to use a chair to help you gently stretch your hamstrings and bring more comfort and ease to your Janu Sirsasana Pose. This calming, soothing pose can also be practiced at your work chair and desk for a brief mid-day respite!
Forward folds comprise a large portion of the yogic repertoire, a strong focus of many asana practices. If you surveyed a group of practitioners, most would likely say that they wish they had more open hamstrings or a deeper forward bend.
But, unfortunately, much to most practitioners’ chagrin, the hamstrings are stubborn muscles that don’t like to open too quickly or too much. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We need these muscles to be strong and stable to support us in daily activities like walking, running, and jumping.
But in yoga, we love balance. And we strive to find the magical balancing point in which our hamstrings are both open and strong. Thus, the practice has many forward folds to help us achieve this goal.
More often than not, when students first begin practicing yoga, they fold by rounding their spines. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if you’re striving to open and lengthen your hamstrings, this practice won’t help you progress very far.
In order to really target the hamstrings, it’s best to hinge from the hips as you move into forward folds so as to effectively pull against the attachment points of the muscles. It sounds like an easy fix, but there’s a very important catch.
If not practiced with patience and care, this simple hip hinge technique can create micro-tears within the tendons of your hamstrings that can be painful and long-lasting. So, to fold deeper in forward bends and safely release the hamstrings, we need to consider both alignment and patience and experiment with props such as Janu Sirsasana with a chair.
The classic forward fold Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose) is a perfect example of how to put this into practice.
Here’s How to Fold Deeper in Janu Sirsasana With a Chair
- Place a chair facing forward at the back of your mat.
- Sit facing the chair and slide your feet underneath it. You may wish to elevate your hips by sitting on block(s), blanket(s), or a bolster.
- Bend your left knee and draw your heel as close toward your pelvis as you comfortably can. Then, allow your left knee to open out toward the left and release your knee to a prop or the floor. Press your left foot into your inner right thigh.
- Straighten your right leg as much as you comfortably can and activate your right foot. Flex your ankle, press out through the ball of your right foot, and spread your toes.
- Use your hands to gently internally rotate your right thigh bone. Spiral your quadricep muscles toward your inner thigh so that your knee points straight toward the ceiling.
- Lift your hips ever so slightly, and use your hands to draw the “fleshy” part away from your seat so you can ground down into your sitting bones and elongate your spine.
- Root your seat down toward the floor and stretch the crown of your head up toward the sky. Find the natural curvatures of your spine so that your neck curves in slightly, your upper and middle back curves out slightly, and your lower back curves in slightly.
- Maintain the length and neutrality that you created in your spine and rest your hands onto the seat of the chair in front of you.
- Ever so slightly, tilt your pelvis forward toward your toes so that you can hinge from your hips and fold your torso forward. Only go about an inch forward and then rise back up to your neutral position. Continue to oscillate between this hip hinge, slight forward fold, and neutral spine for about a minute, becoming aware of the actions in the body needed to hinge from your hips rather than round your back as you fold.
- Once you feel comfortable with the hip hinge, you can move your hands up to hold the back edge of the chair and slide the chair forward slightly away from your body until you can rest your forehead on the seat of it. If your spine rounds when you do this, reset your pelvis and spine by bending your elbows and gently pulling down on the chair with your arms. This will tilt your pelvis farther forward so you can elongate your back body again.
- If you’d like, you can gently rotate your body from right to left with tiny little movements to stretch or release any muscular or fascial restrictions that are specific to your body. Feel free to move slightly within the pose to target different angles and tissues.
- If you’d like, you can lift out of the pose just slightly, reset your pelvis and spine, and then slide your chair farther away from you and lower your hands down to the legs of the chair to move deeper into the forward fold.
- If it feels appropriate, you can release your grasp on the chair completely as you surrender the weight of your torso farther into the fold toward your leg.
- Hold for a few long deep breaths up to a few minutes. And when you’re ready to come out, slowly release back out the way you came in. Move your hands up the chair and hip hinge in the opposite direction to rise back up to sit. Pause for a moment and then switch sides.
Tips for Janu Sirsasana Forward Fold Practice:
- One of the secrets to forward bends is patience. Maintain the pose for a period of time to gradually allow different parts of your tissues to lengthen and release without stress.
- Be aware of what’s happening within your body and how your tissues are reacting to the stretch. Back off when needed or move deeper when appropriate.
- Strive to create a relatively equal length between your front body and back body as you fold so you don’t round your spine as you move into the pose but maintain a relatively vertical plumb line through your spine.
Video Tutorial: Enjoy This Calming Janu Sirsasana Chair Practice
We know that patience is a virtue, but for most of us, it isn’t our strongest suit. However, when it comes to forward bends in yoga, patience is not only a virtue; it’s absolutely necessary.
If we push our bodies too far too fast, we risk injury. So always practice forward folds with awareness, interoception, and care. Take your time and enjoy the journey. And before you know it, you’ll be touching your toes or connecting your head and your knee in no time—all while maintaining the structural integrity and health of your tissues to create optimal balance.