janu = knee
sirsa = head
Head-to-Knee Forward Bend: Step-by-Step Instructions
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Use a blanket under your buttocks if necessary. Inhale, bend your right knee, and draw the heel back toward your perineum. Rest your right foot sole lightly against your inner left thigh, and lay the outer right leg on the floor, with the shin at a right angle to the left leg (if your right knee doesn’t rest comfortably on the floor, support it with a folded blanket).
Press your right hand against the inner right groin, where the thigh joins the pelvis, and your left hand on the floor beside the hip. Exhale and turn the torso slightly to the left, lifting the torso as you push down on and ground the inner right thigh. Line up your navel with the middle of the left thigh. You can just stay here, using a strap to help you lengthen the spine evenly, grounding through the sitting bones.
Or, when you are ready, you can drop the strap and reach out with your right hand to take the inner left foot, thumb on the sole. Inhale and lift the front torso, pressing the top of the left thigh into the floor and extending actively through the left heel. Use the pressure of the left hand on the floor to increase the twist to the left. Then reach your left hand to the outside of the foot. With the arms fully extended, lengthen the front torso from the pubis to the top of the sternum.
Exhale and extend forward from the groins, not the hips. Be sure not to pull yourself forcefully into the forward bend, hunching the back and shortening the front torso. As you descend, bend your elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor.
Lengthen forward into a comfortable stretch. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, the head last. Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Come up with an inhalation and repeat the instructions with the legs reversed for the same length of time.
Contraindications and Cautions
- Knee injury: Don’t flex the injured knee completely and support it on a folded blanket.
Modifications and Props
If you can’t comfortably reach the extended-leg foot, use a strap. Loop it around the sole of the foot and hold it with your arms fully extended. Be sure not to pull yourself forward when using the strap; walk your hands lightly along the strap while you keep your arms and the front of your torso lengthened.
In some schools of yoga this pose is also performed with the perineum sitting on the bent-knee heel. The bent-knee leg is angled out to the side at somewhat less than 90 degrees.
Deepen the Pose
You can increase the challenge in this pose by widening the angle between the two legs past 90 degrees. Instead of bringing the bent-knee heel into the perineum, snug it into the same-side groin. Do this only if you have sufficient flexibility in the legs, hips, and back.
- Seated forward bends
Make sure the bent-leg foot doesn’t slide under the straight leg. You should be able to look down and see the sole of the foot. Keep the bent-leg foot active too. Broaden the top of the foot on the floor and press the heel toward the inner groin of the straight leg.
- Calms the brain and helps relieve mild depression
- Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groins
- Stimulates the liver and kidneys
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
- Relieves anxiety, fatigue, headache, menstrual discomfort
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure, insomnia, and sinusitis
- Strengthens the back muscles during pregnancy (up to second trimester), done without coming forward, keeping your back spine concave and front torso long.
A partner can help you learn about grounding the bent-leg thigh. Have your partner stand behind you and press the inner edge of his/her foot against the inner groin of your bent leg. As you lengthen forward into the pose, see if you can release the head of the thigh away from the pressure of the foot, toward the floor.