Janu sirsasana (head to knee pose) is a forward bend. This is pretty obvious. But is it obvious where you’re meant to bend? Not always.
Thus, in our first two weeks, we put a lot of attention on moving into the pose via hip flexion –”bending” at the hip joint. This week we’re going to look at the other places you can “bend” in janu sirsasana, while never forgetting that it’s useful to start with hip flexion!
When I think of janu sirsasana, I think luscious, I think distributed release of the spine, I think belly resting on thigh so that my whole back can let go.
We can absolutely practice this shape with all kinds of “bending” in the torso! The most four most common actions that occur when we release softly over the extended leg include:
- spine flexion
- neck flexion
- scapular protraction
- shoulder horizontal adduction
Often we pull our students away from these because their hip flexion stops at or before 90 degrees. 90 degrees of hip flexion puts the legs and torso in an L shape. If the pelvis doesn’t move toward the leg beyond this 90 degrees, from an L to more of a V shape, it is impossible to distribute the bend throughout the spine evenly.
Why? Because the last two vertebral sections of our spine are part of the pelvis. Thus, the pelvis must tilt in the direction you want the spine to move.
When you’re sitting on your butt, how can you tilt the pelvis forward to take the spine into the fold? If you read last week’s post, you can probably say it with me:
- Increase your hip flexion (greater than 90 degrees) without any other adjustment –this much mobility isn’t super common
- Increase your hip flexion, but decrease your knee extension (i.e., bend the knees), so that the total length requirement from the hamstrings remains manageable
Once we’ve made sure to start the forward fold from the hips, is the release of the spine just a cake walk? No!!!
How many of you have dozens of students who complain of back pain? (Raising hand right here.) Pain can have many causes, but often along with it comes weakness or tightness which prevents full mobility of the spine.
That evenly distributed spine flexion we’re after? You need pretty good mobility in the spine for that. And in this case, tightness in the spine extensors and the “hip hikers” are likely getting in the way of that.
Muscles Likely Tight
- Spine extensors: erector spinae, latissimus dorsi
- The “hip hiking” muscle, also part of your spine lateral flexor group: quadratus lumborum (QL)
We can help our students feel more of the lusciousness of janu sirsasana (or at least a little more comfortable) by helping them to lengthen their spine extensors and QL over time AND shorten the distance over which they need to distribute their forward fold.
First, let’s talk props and big knee bends.
In this approach, you can set up your students with as many modifying pieces as needed so that they are able to let go of strain in the shape.
- Elevate the pelvis
- Bend the knee of the extended leg as much as needed (and it might be A LOT, that’s OK!)
- Put a prop between the thigh/knee/shin and the head so the weight of the spine is supported
- Use all your “let go” tools to encourage release and full breathing while in the shape
Next, let’s look at actually lengthening the tissues before we do the pose
Throughout your class, include several active spine flexion shapes:
- marichyasana (cat pose)
- rolling from adho muhka svanasana (downward facing dog) to plank
Also include standing and sitting shapes that allow relatively passive spine flexion with active hip flexion –and have your students practice bending the knees A LOT here as well!
- uttanasana (forward fold)
- parsvottanasana (one-sided forward fold)
- folded sukhasana (easy seat)
- folded garudasana (eagle pose)
marjaryasana, active spine flexion
Forward folding is everywhere in a standard vinyasa class. What are your favorite forward folds in which you let the spine release? Share and tag it with #216infrastructure!
Happy bending, yogis!
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.