Jānuśīrṣāsana is a seated forward bending pose that gives a deep stretch to the back and legs. The name comes from the words jānu, "head," and śīrṣa, "knee," and is often translated as "head to knee pose."
Stretch the back, hips and legs
The combination of sitting and bringing one leg into external rotation places more emphasis on the stretch in the lower to mid back. The asymmetrical nature of the pose allows students to work with one side of the back/legs/hip at a time.
Move the apāna vayu region
This deep forward fold moves the lower abdominal area (associated with removal of waste and impurities).
How to do jānuśīrṣāna:
- Begin seated in daņḍāsana, with both legs extended straight in front and arms by your side. Maintain jālaṁdhara bandha throughout the entire sequence.
- Bend the right knee and turn knee out to the side, placing the foot on the inner left thigh. Turn slightly toward the left leg.
- As you inhale, raise both arms up from the front until they are alongside the head.
- Exhale as you bend forward, extending the spine over the left leg. At the end of the forward fold, lower the hands toward the floor beyond the left foot and clasp the left wrist with your right hand.
- Sthiti going in to the pose: Inhale, keeping hands clasped around foot, extend spine fully. Exhale, and bend more closely to the left leg.
- Sthiti moving out of the pose: Inhale, keeping hand clasp and spine extension, allow breath to lift torso away from the leg a bit. Exhale, fold toward leg, but not as completely.
- Inhale and raise arms alongside head, extend upper back and return to upright position.
- Exhale and lower arms.
- When one side is complete, bring right knee back up and straighten next to other leg. Then repeat on other side.
Posture can be done dynamically or with a stay.
Tips and Modifications
The trick of this posture is to keep the extension of the spine and maintain jālaṁdhara bandha for the entire forward fold; these elements are fundamental to the posture. Concentrating on exhale technique (drawing the lower abdomen toward the spine on exhale) as you fold forward will help keep the spine and head in position.
Since jānuśīrṣāsana requires so much back, hip and leg flexibility, most students will need to modify the pose by bending the knee of the straight leg and/or raising the hips. Use a folded or rolled blanket under the knee or hips accordingly.
Students can place their hands alongside the extended leg instead of the handclasp.
For some students, bending the knee and bringing the hip into external rotation is impossible or strains the hip, knee or ankle. For those students, I offer the modification of just bending the knee and keeping the foot on the floor (but walking the foot out a bit so there is space to fold forward)--this modification ends up looking like maricyāsana.
Another version I like is to sit with both legs straight, but with feet about hip width apart. Then the student folds forward over one leg at a time. The wide-legged forward bend, upavistha konasana, might be another good option for stretching the back, hips and legs, without requiring the external hip rotation and knee bend.
However, if a student is unable to comfortably sit in the starting position for this pose, I am concerned that a seated forward bend may not be appropriate, and I would prefer to give the student a more useful forward bending posture, like vajrāsana forward bend (child's pose) or apānāsana.
Primary Muscle Actions
- Erector spinae, gluteal/external hip rotators, groin and leg muscles are stretched.
- Upper back, lower back and shoulders/arms are strengthened to some extent.
- Stretches back, hip, legs and groin.
- Strengthens upper back.
- Compresses abdominal area (apana region) and has a "cleansing" effect, especially when paired with exhale technique of drawing lower abdomen up and in toward spine.
Take care of hips and knees in this pose. Do not use any sort of force to place the foot on the inner thigh.