As your yoga practice deepens, complex asanas become more than just interesting shapes to strive for. Often, the real juice comes during the learning process, when you pick up lessons that you can apply when you're off the mat, too.
Charles Matkin, yoga teacher and cofounder (with his wife, Lisa) of Matkin Yoga in Garrison, New York, believes that learning the inner workings of Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-of-the-Knee Pose) provides guidelines for weathering life's difficulties. "It's a backbend, a forward bend, a side bend—and a twist," he says. Winding yourself into all of those shapes at the same time requires moving from a place of deep solidity. Once you find your center in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, you can extend your spine and limbs safely. Then, when life presents challenges, you can remember that sense of center, steady yourself, and expand outward and face things with ease. "If you stay true to your essence, you can balance yourself when you're being pulled in a million different directions," Matkin says. "You'll be able to flip over backward without losing your sense of who you are."
As you work your way through Matkin's sequence, you will create the foundation of Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana by establishing a stable pelvis. Once you have that solid base, you will open the hips and hamstrings to help you expand into the final pose with grace and steadiness. It may seem as though some of the preparatory poses are more difficult than the final asana. That's no mistake. "In North America people work and work and work and work, with no end in sight," Matkin says. &qut;There's very little time for pause. But in this case, all the hard work you'll do goes toward a deep stillness that is delicious."
If you're unable to extend into the final pose right now, remember that the heart of the sequence is about connecting to your core and your pelvis, Matkin says. "These poses give you an opportunity to find out what's at your center. You'll begin to feel your potential to bend over backward out in the world, while developing the support you need to stay there."
Benefits Aids digestion; Stretches intercostal muscles (improving respiration); Increases circulation to the spine and relieves back pain; Helps stabilize the lumbar; Stretches the hamstrings, groins, quadratus lumborum, and chest
Contraindications Sacral instability or injury; Knee instability or injury; Torn hamstrings, groin pulls; Lower back strain or spinal disk injuries