As its name suggests, apānāsana balances the downward energy force apānā, the energy that maintains elimination. This pose is often referred to as knees-to-chest pose or wind-relieving pose, and sometimes as energy-freeing pose.
Functions of the Pose
Promote vitality to abdominal-pelvic organs
Apānāsana is frequently recommended to promote health and optimal functioning of the digestive, urinary, and sexual organs.
Elongate muscles of the back
Drawing the knees toward the chest lengthens the erector spinae muscles which run alongside the spine, the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles.
Finding the Pose
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Lift your feet to bring your knees directly over your hips and place your hands on your knees with fingers pointing toward the feet.
- As you exhale, allow your elbows to bend as your legs drop toward your abdomen.
- As you inhale, allow your legs to drift away and your arms to straighten again.
- When finished, return feet to floor.
Tips & Modifications
The hardest thing about this pose is that it should be done in a relaxed, easy way, as though the movement of your breath were directing the movement of your legs toward and away from you. My favorite way to think of the movement is like a boat, rocking on the surface of gently moving water--the back and forth motion is gentle and serene.
For many students that have back stiffness, however, apānāsana is neither comfortable nor gentle. Just bringing their legs close enough to put their hands on their knees may be a strain. For these students, I usually suggest a single-legged apānāsana, either keeping one foot on the floor and moving one knee toward and away from the abdomen several times, then switching; or, alternately bringing one knee toward the chest then returning the foot to the floor with each exhale/inhale.
But for those who can comfortably do apānāsana, it's a wonderfully soft way to bring movement in to the lower back and reduce chronic tension. It calms the entire body and mind. The sacrum should just begin to curl away from the floor toward the end of the exhale. If the lower back is pulling up away from the floor, students are pulling their legs too far in.
During pregnancy, or for students with a larger midsection or who experience discomfort in the inguinal region (the space between the top of the thigh and pelvis), bring the legs wider, keeping knees and feet about the same distance apart.
I have tried apānāsana with a stay before, but I find that holding a position with such great hip flexion can builds too much tension there, so I prefer to have students lie down with bent knees and feet on the floor or to support their legs in a chair or with blocks/blankets/bolsters for a long stay.
Apānāsana is a mild forward-bending pose, and can be used as a counter-pose to back-bending poses like dwi pada pitham (bridge pose) or twists like jathara parivritti. It is frequently used toward the end of class to rest the body and bring students to a more introspective place.
- There is some muscular work, but it is very subtle. It helps most to imagine that breathing is creating the movement.
- The muscles of the lower back and hips are gently lengthened--but not stretched. The feeling is more of relaxation than a stretch.
- Lengthens lower back and hips muscles.
- Because of its work in the apāna region, apānāsana can help relieve menstrual or digestive cramps and other discomfort associated with poor elimination. Should
- Relieves stiffness or pain due to vertebral compression, misalignment or spasm of the low back.
Take care of straining the back for students with limited mobility. Only bring the knees in as far as comfortable with the sacrum just beginning to curl away from the floor. There should be no strain in this posture. If there is strain to lift the legs or hold the knees over the hips, students should be given an alternative movement with a similar function (like eka pada apānāsana -- one leg at a time -- or vajrasana forward bend).