Forward Bend Yoga Poses

Head-to-Knee Pose

Janu Sirsasana, or Head-to-Knee Pose, is appropriate for students of any level and melds a forward bend with a spinal twist.

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Combining a forward fold, twist, and side body stretch all in one, Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose) can help calm your mind as well as stretch your body. Instead of rounding your back, lengthen your spine and bend from your hip crease. As you fold forward, close your eyes and cultivate a sense of inner peace.

Illusions of grandeur can take hold when a desire to get as far as possible into an asana, or pose, takes you past your limits. These are as much asmita, or ego, as inability or meekness. In order to keep your ego in line with reality, approach any pose with humility and focus. Stay present, without trying to move too fast. Try to experience what you are feeling in your body without getting wrapped up in achieving a goal.

The more you practice Janu Sirsasana, the more you will realize that the goal of this posture is not about touching your toes—it’s about slowing down, focusing on your breath, and calming your mind.

Head-to-Knee Pose basics

Sanskrit: Janu Sirsasana (JAH-new shear-SHAHS-anna)

Pose Type: Forward Fold

Targets: Lower Body

Why We Love It: This pose is proof to me that there’s honor in trying. I definitely can’t place my head on my knee as I fold forward—not even close—yet I can still enter the posture. How? It’s because this pose makes me return to my breath, going only as deep as my body allows. That lesson carries with me into every other pose that I try. You don’t need to assume the perfect shape to be practicing yoga, you just have to be willing to find your edge. — Kyle Houseworth, Assistant Editor

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Pose benefits

Head-to-Knee Pose improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting. It can be helpful for recovery after sports and activities that include running. It stretches the back of your body, including your back muscles, and can help relieve low back tightness and low back pain. Also, it can bring calm to the mind and help with depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

 

Head-to-Knee Pose: Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee and place the sole of your right foot high on your left inner thigh.
  2. Inhale and lengthen your spine; exhale and take your right hand to the outside of your left thigh and your left hand behind your left hip.
  3. On an exhalation, bend at your hips and lean forward over your left leg.
  4. Reach for your left foot. If it is available to you, clasp your left wrist with your right hand.
  5. Inhale and reach your sternum forward; exhale and revolve your right ribs toward your left knee even more.
  6. To exit the pose, inhale and lift your chest. Straighten your right leg, returning to Staff Pose.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Beginners’ tip

If you experience knee pain, move your bent knee closer to the straight leg. Having your knee out at a wider angle can create stress on the sartorial muscle, which runs down the inner thigh. If the pain persists, come out of the pose.

Teaching Janu Sirsasana

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • Pushing, pulling, or any kind of aggression in this pose will create more tension and possibly injury. Remind your students to only come into the forward bend to the degree that they comfortably can. The muscles will release into the pose over time.
  • Suggest that students elevate their pelvis by sitting on a folded blanket, bolster, or block. Lifting the seat enables the body to bend at the hip crease rather than at the waist.
  • Offer the option to put a rolled-up blanket under your straightened knee to prevent locking (hyperextension).
  • The bent leg in Janu Sirsasana also works the same way as the bent leg in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) and Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle). When you are working on these standing poses, begin to explore how to create external rotation in the bent leg by softening into your outer hip creases and creating space there. Try working with less effort in your hips.

Variation: Supported seated leg stretch with a strap

Photo: Eleanor Willliamson

Loop a strap (or a belt) around the ball of your straight-leg foot to extend your reach. Elongate your spine and flex at your hips to fold forward slightly. Do not round your back.

Preparatory poses

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Counter poses

Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank | Upward Plank)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)