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Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose: The Complete Guide

An intense side stretch, Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana allows you to experience the connection between your breath and movement through subtle (and intentional) adjustments.


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Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose) is a twisting variation of Janu Sirsasana that takes the classic forward bend to the next level.

This posture offers the challenge of side bending while twisting from a seated base that is comfortable and easy for most people to access, says yoga teacher and OM Yoga Studio founder Cyndi Lee. Like many twists, this pose stretches your back, hips, and spine in a way that is both calming and energizing. Folding over your extended leg opens space for deeper breathing.

The hamstrings can be vulnerable in this pose, especially near the sitting bones where the muscles attach. Contract your quadriceps forcefully to prevent the hamstrings from contracting.

While you might think of a side bend as a passive pose, Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana is anything but. Move through the subtle adjustments in this pose with intention and experience the connection between your breath and movement. Inhale as you lift tall, exhale as you bend to the side, inhale as you lift through your spine, exhale as you settle into the pose. And who knows? Maybe the next time you find yourself in a difficult situation in your daily life, you’ll call upon the lessons of Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana and find a way to breathe through the discomfort there, too.

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Revolved Head-to-Knee basics

Sanskrit: Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (puh-ree-VREET-tuh JAH-nu SHAS-ah-nah)
parivrtta = revolved
janu = knee
sirsa = head

Pose type: Seated; twist

Targets: Full body

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Benefits

Revolved Head-to-Knee is an energy-boosting posture that can help you fight fatigue. This pose stretches the back of your thigh (hamstring), groin, inner thigh (adductor), calf muscles, ankle, and foot on the extended leg. On the bent knee side, this pose stretches your outer hip (abductor) and thigh (quadriceps). It also stretches both sides of your torso. On the shortened side, this pose strengthens your side body, including the abdominal obliques and the muscles alongside your spine. On the lengthened side, it stretches your side body, large back muscles, and the muscles along your spine.

Other Revolved Head-to-Knee perks:

  • Improves posture and counteracts the effects of sitting and computer work
  • Relieves low-back pain
  • Expands the rib cage, improving breathing capacity
  • Relieves headache and neck pain
  • Improves digestion by stimulating your organs
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin in Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend); make sure to be directly on top of your sitting bones with your quadriceps facing the ceiling.
  2. Bend your right knee, and place your heel at your right groin.
  3. Inhale and lengthen your spine, then exhale and twist your torso to the right.
  4. Move your left shoulder toward the inside of your left knee while revolving your torso toward the ceiling.
  5. Extend your left hand, palm up, toward your left foot, and clasp your inner foot or reach your hand toward your foot.
  6. Reach your right hand to the right, then sweep it past your right ear, palm down. If you can reach it comfortably, grab the your left foot. Otherwise, reach toward the foot.
  7. Inhale and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, twist any amount more to the right.
  8. Continue this pattern of breath: inhalations to create space along the torso; exhalations to offer the heart up.
  9. Hold for 10 breaths to 1 minute, then root down with your legs on an exhalation, and inhale to bring your torso up and back to center.
  10. Repeat on the other side.
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Explore the pose

Beginner’s tips

  • You may find that you can go deeper into your experience of the pose if you remember to practice vinyasa: On each in-breath, lengthen your spine and reengage your legs and arms. On each out-breath, twist just a tiny bit more and fold a tad further to the side.

Common mistakes

  • Take time warming up and be sure to move slowly into and out of the pose. Yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala reminds students to stay humble—remove the striving for accomplishment and instead go for the experience of whatever you can do in the moment.

Be mindful!

Avoid or modify to a gentler version if you have osteoporosis, disc bulging or herniation (depending on the direction of the herniation, ask your doctor), or other back pain or issues. You should also avoid or modify to a gentler version if you have a hamstring tear, groin tear, hip replacement, a hernia, or SI (sacroiliac) dysfunction/pain.

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Revolved Head-to-Knee variations

If you have knee pain, try one of these more gentle modifications. If you have shoulder pain, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain when you lift your arm, try keeping your hand on your hip. Don’t force your body into the pose; instead, move slowly and mindfully in and out of the pose. If pain persists, come out of the pose.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Gentle Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose

Only lean into your side as far as you can go without rounding your spine and slouching forward. This may mean keeping your lower hand on your shin.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Propped Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose

Try elevating your hips by sitting on a block or bolster.

To avoid hyperextending, slide a rolled or folded blanket underneath the knee of your extended leg. Consider using a strap around the sole of your foot, or bring your bottom hand to your shin as you lean toward that foot.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Chair Side Stretch

Sit in a chair with your knees hip-distance apart and your feet beneath your knees at the same distance. Keep your thighs parallel to the ground. If you are taller, you may need to sit on folded blankets. If you are shorter, you may need to put folded blankets or blocks under your feet.

Rest your right hand on your thigh and reach your left arm up and overhead to your right side. If it doesn’t cause strain in your neck, look up.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Practice forward bends and side body stretches to prepare your hamstrings, side body, and shoulders for this rather intense shape.

Preparatory poses

Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)

Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior)

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe)

Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

Counter poses

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Your body in Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose| Anatomy

“Parivrtta” indicates a revolving, twisting, or turning version of a pose, and this variant on Janu Sirsasana brings you much of the same stretch in the back body as its namesake pose yet it also rotates and stretches your side body in an asymmetrical manner that resembles Parighasana (Gate Pose).

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Revolved Head to Knee Pose: Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

The biceps activate to bend your elbows, drawing the torso toward the straight leg.

The anterior deltoids at the front of the shoulders lift the humeri away from the torso, opening the chest.

When you grasp your foot with your hands, you link the shoulder and pelvic girdles and transmit a stretch from your back along the length of your leg. The contraction of the quadriceps holds your knee straight and, through reciprocal inhibition, brings an especially intense stretch to the hamstrings.

Revolved Head to Knee Pose: Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

The peroneus longus and brevis on the outside of the calf turn the ankle of the straight leg slightly outward. These same muscles are gently stretched in the bent leg by inverting the foot to turn the sole slightly upward.

Another contributing factor to how the stretch is felt in your body is the position of your bent knee. The gluteus maximus turns your bent leg hip outward. External rotator muscles deep in the hip assist in maintaining that turnout and the gluteus medius muscle holds the bent leg hip away from the centerline. The bent knee can be abducted progressively, or drawn further backward, to intensify the stretch of the adductor group of muscles on the inside of the thigh.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga by Ray Long.

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Put Revolved Head-to-Knee into practice

Here are some flows that include Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana:


About our contributors 

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.