Each month we dig into a different asana by looking at common valves in major joints (spine, etc) and asking why do these valves or energy leaks occur? To answer that, we go under the hood and explore the asana’s kinesiology—what the muscles and bones are doing! This information lets us build valve “fixes,” practical teaching ideas you can try in your classes and privates. Each week builds on the next, giving you a month-long outline for how to help your students uncover their variation of the asana.
Happy 4th of July week yogis!
It’s a new month meaning we have a new pose for you: janu sirsasana or “head to knee pose”!
We start by addressing the base/pelvis in janu sirsasana. Forward folds in yoga are named such because we “fold” forward at the hip joints, which are located in the pelvis.
Of course, when you’re sitting on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you, it’s possible you or your students will have reached your maximum active hip folding capacity. Janu sirsasana requires more fold (in technical terms: hip flexion). So what happens if you just don’t have it? And why might you feel restricted here?
The valve we see most often is posterior pelvic tilt (which gives your low back a rounded appearance).
Muscles Likely Tight: hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteus maximus)
Muscles Likely Weak: hip flexors (psoas, rectus femoris, adductor group). In janu sirsasana, weak hip flexors is less often a culprit than tightness in the tissues of the hip extensors.
Yoga is a practice to take us out of our daily habits, sometimes by bringing awareness to habits we’ve accrued over our lifetimes. Many of our students (and often many yoga teachers!) find themselves seated for much of the day, in chairs or on the couch. Because of all this sitting, most humans today find themselves with tight hip extensors: the hamstrings and glute muscles.
When we take those tight hip extensors into the yoga studio and attempt to “stretch,” their tightness tends to win and we get an unwanted posterior pelvic tilt!
Let’s look at the common origin of the hamstrings: at the right and left ischial tuberosities (which are commonly referred to as the “sit bones” and are located at the bottom of the pelvis).
Also, take a look at the insertion of the hamstring, located at the medial condyle of the tibia and the lateral head of the fibula (either side of the top of the lower leg, just below the knee).
Because the hamstrings origin is located on the underside of the pelvis, a tight pull from the hamstrings causes the pelvis to be pulled under, otherwise known as a posterior pelvic tilt!
Of course, the hamstrings cross not one but two joints: the hip and the knee! This means the hamstrings are involved in two major actions: hip extension and knee flexion.
Janu sirsasana asks for the antagonist (opposite) actions of both hip extension and knee flexion, which means this shape puts the hamstrings into a long position from both its ends. This can exacerbate the strength of pull on the pelvis and make it impossible for some of us to undo the unwanted posterior pelvic tilt.
The posterior pelvic tilt is caused by too much length being asked of the hamstrings. We can create more space for an anterior pelvic tilt by changing the hamstrings’ condition in one or all of three ways.
Lengthen the Hamstrings (Over Time)
You can practice targeted hamstring lengthening with supta hasta padangusthasana (reclined “hand” to big toe, wherein the hand is extended in its reach by a strap!), as well as several other common asana, including:
- adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)
- uttanasana (intense standing forward fold)
- parsvottanasana (intense one-sided standing forward fold)
You probably get the idea.
Forward folds help to lengthen the hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteus maximus). That being said, it can help to do all of the above asana with slightly bent knees so that your students can progress from where they are. (See below.)
Lesson the Hip Flexion
Sit on a blanket, block, or bolster to lesson the hip flexion your student needs to create (the prop makes up the difference). This is a passive aid that lessons the pull on the hamstrings from the pelvis.
Add Knee Flexion
Have your student bend the extended knee until they can bring the pelvis into neutral or tilt it forward. This is an active aid that lessons the pull on the hamstrings from the knees.
What other ideas have you used to help your students free up the pelvis in janu sirsasana? If you share on social, use the tag #216infrastructure!
Stay cool, yogis!
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Featured photo by © Eric Bandiero