How to Do a Single Leg Forward Bend in Yoga
Single Leg Forward Bend Janu Sirsasana, or Head to Knee Posture
Forward bends are important stretches for people in all walks of life, for as we spend hours each day sitting in chairs and in cars, the muscles at the back of the body tighten and shorten. This creates lower back pain and stiffness through the hips, which can be alleviated with regular practice of Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose.
Starting from a seated position, straighten your left leg out in front of you and bring the right foot to the left ankle, the calf or the thigh. If your hips are stiff to start, the lower down the left leg your right foot is, the easier it will be to fold forward. The picture below shows an easy variation to start.
Inhale, and as you exhale, fold forward with a long spine, lengthening your ribs away from your hips and reaching forward through your heart. It is more important to lengthen the spine in this position that it is to go low toward the ground.
Come as far into the pose as your body allows, then hold it and breathe into wherever you feel the stretch. At first if your hamstrings and buttocks are very tight, you will need to soften the knee at the straight leg. This will prevent injury to your lower back.
As your body opens to the posture with regular practice, work toward straightening the extended leg, pressing out through the straight leg heel, and flexing the straight leg foot back toward the face. You will feel how flexing the foot and engaging the heel forward deepens the stretch at the back of the thigh, in the hamstrings.
Single Leg Forward Bend Janu Sirsasana
Single Leg Forward Bend
After a few breaths with the spine extending, relax the head forward, relax the spine forward, and relax fully into the position. Each time you exhale, keep actively reaching into wherever you feel the stretch--in your hamstrings, through your hips and buttocks, and through your lower and upper back.
Hold the position for five to ten breaths, then repeat the position on the other side, or work the posture into a short flow of postures that lead with one leg, and then repeat the sequence leading with the other leg.
Single Leg Forward Bend Janu Sirsasana Beginner Variation
Benefits of Single Leg Forward Bend Janu Sirsasana
- stretches the hamstrings at the back of the thighs, the gluteals in the buttocks, the muscles of the lower back, and the trapezius muscle in the upper back
- strengthens the core, as we use the abdominals to lengthen the ribs away from the hips
- increases the breath capacity and stretches the breathing muscles at the back of ribs
- quiets the mind, as the body folds forward on itself and the mind turns within. This aspect of yoga, called Pratyahara, or withdrawing the mind from the outer world and the senses, is a valuable aspect of all the forward bends.
- massages and tones the organs. As the lungs empty and fill in the compressed space of the forward fold, pressure on the organs builds as the lungs inflate and decreases as they empty.
Single Leg Forward Bend Janu Sirsasana Variations
As your practice advances, work to bring your bent leg foot to the thigh or groin, and keep pressing the bent knee toward the ground.
For the Single Leg Forward Bend side variation, open your right leg to the side as far as your body allows, and bring the left foot into your thigh. Bring the back of your right hand to the inside of your left thigh, calf or foot. As you inhale, reach your left arm out to the side and up to vertical. You may hold it there and breathe if that is enough, or if you want a deeper variation as you exhale, lower the left arm along side the ear.
Once you have found your position, hold it and breath for five to ten full, slow breaths. Keep lifting the left arm out of the shoulder. Keep lengthening your ribs away from your hips each time you exhale. Feel a stretch down your left side and through the inside of your right leg. Keep pressing your bent leg knee to the floor. Keep the weight even on both sitting bones. Unclench your teeth. Find a way to relax into the stretch each time you exhale. If you find you have gone too deep and are in a variation you cannot hold, go back to a simpler variation, let go of ambition and pushing, and stay with your body where it is right now, and breath.
Practicing without expectations about what you think your pose should look like or comparing yourself to others is the best way to benefit fully from the posture and to progress.