HOW TO PRACTICE Head-to-Knee Pose IN YOGA (Janu Sirsasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Head-to-Knee Pose
Head-to-Knee Pose (Sanskrit name: Janu Sirsasana) is a wonderful forward folding posture to include toward the end of a yoga class. Janu Sirsasana is also known as “Ardha Paschimottanasana” (Half-Seated Forward Bend Pose or Half-West Stretch Pose). Unlike its cousin Paschimottanasana, Janu Sirsasana stretches just one leg at a time. By focusing the effort primarily on one side in this manner, the entire back line of the body can experience an integrated stretch from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head.
Benefits of Head-to-Knee Pose
Janu Sirsasana helps lengthen the hamstrings, calves, and deep rotator muscles of the legs. In the upper body, the major back muscles engage, as do the obliques that provide a mild rotation in the chest toward the extended leg. For some yoga students, Head-to-Knee pose can aid in digestion, as its position squeezes the abdomen. Like all forward folding yoga poses, Head-to-Knee Pose cultivates inner focus for the mind, soothing and calming nerves.
Please note, that although we often think of “full expression” in seated forward bends means that your head should touch your knees, this is not necessary in order to create a satisfying, full-body experience. Even though the yoga posture is most commonly called “Head-to-Knee Pose,” touching your head to your knee is not the point and often comes at the expense of the back, which rounds excessively in order to accomplish the head-to-knee goal. This can be harmful to your lumbar discs.
If your hamstrings are tight and forward folding is a challenge, hinging forward from the hips while keeping the upper spine long is much more important than touching your head to your knee. Lengthening the spine and hinging from the pelvis provides a much more effective hamstring stretch as well.
The late Mary Dunn, a senior Iyengar teacher, called Janu Sirsasana “Head of the Knee Pose,” referring to the head of the bent knee. In Iyengar’s interpretation, she said, actively extending outward through the head of the bent knee is what makes the asana dynamic. Feel free to explore how outward extension of the bent knee affects the rest of the body in the yoga pose.
Basic Head-to-Knee Pose
- Start by sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your hips on a folded blanket (or two).
- Lift the sternum tall, finding length in your spine.
- Bend the left leg, placing the foot to the inside of the right thigh. Stretch the left knee outward—not downward—from the pelvis.
- Place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh, and your right hand on the floor behind the sacrum.
- On an inhalation, lengthen the spine. As you exhale, twist from the ribcage to the right. Allow your right hip to draw back if it wants to.
- Face your head forward and gaze at your right big toe.
- Keeping your torso twisted to the right, start to hinge forward over your extended leg from the hip joints.
- Grab ahold of your foot with both hands. If you can’t reach your foot with your hands, place a strap around your foot and hold both ends in your hands. Then walk your hands up the strap toward your foot to take up the slack. Keep your torso long.
- Roll the left ribs down toward the right leg, and the right ribs away from the right leg.
- Relax and take 5 to 10 deep breaths. On an inhalation lift your gaze, then lift all the way up to sitting.
- Repeat all of the steps on the other side.