Test Your Hamstrings
To see how tight hamstrings can limit your Paripurna Navasana, try Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). Lie on your back, place a yoga belt across the sole of your right foot, and hold an end in each hand. Keeping your head, torso, and left leg flat on the floor and both legs straight, lift your right leg up toward the ceiling. If you can bring your leg past vertical and easily grasp your big toe while keeping your legs straight and your shoulders on the floor, your hamstrings won't hamper you in Paripurna Navasana. If you can't get your leg at least perpendicular to the floor while keeping proper alignment, your hamstrings are too tight to allow a 90-degree angle between your torso and legs in Paripurna Navasana—and the wider the angle, the harder you'll have to work your iliopsoas and your abs. In addition, tight hamstrings will pull on the base of your pelvis, tilting it back and forcing your erector spinae to work overtime to compensate.
Ease Into It
Regular practice of Supta Padangusthasana and other hamstring stretches will help your Paripurna Navasana. In the meantime, here's how you can work on the pose even with tight hamstrings.
Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the floor and draw your spine tall. Wrap your hands around the tops of your shins and pull in with your arms to help lift and broaden your chest. Sit up on your sitting bones, not rolled back onto your tailbone. Then, keeping your spine fully lengthened and your chest lifted, release the grip on your shins and stretch your arms out parallel to the floor. Reach strongly from shoulders to fingertips without rounding your shoulders; keep your shoulder blades moving down your back.
Next, start tipping your torso back and find a balance point—still on your sitting bones and with your knees bent and spine long, but now with your feet off the floor. Begin to straighten your legs, stopping and rebending them a bit if you feel your back start to round. This bent-leg version is a good way to practicing balancing in Paripurna Navasana while also strengthening the muscles you need for the pose.
Take the Challenge
If tight hamstrings aren't an issue, you may be able to practice Paripurna Navasana with straight legs—or you may have to work with them bent while you build strength. As you get stronger and more flexible, you'll eventually be able to straighten both knees so your toes are a bit higher than your eyes.
Once you can do that, try moving back and forth between Paripurna Navasana and Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose). For Ardha Navasana, keep your legs and torso about six to eight inches from the floor, clasp your hands behind your head, and let your spine come into some flexion. As you lift back into Paripurna, open your chest, draw your shoulder blades down your back, and fully lengthen your spine.
For the ultimate Boat challenge, start in Dandasana (Staff Pose), sitting with your legs straight out in front of you on the floor and your spine tall. You'll need open hamstrings to achieve the 90-degree leg-to-torso angle you worked on in Supta Padangusthasana. Keeping that angle, lift your legs and tip back so you're still on your sitting bones but now in a strong V-shaped Paripurna Navasana.
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