Janu Sirsasana, also called the Head-to-Knee Forward Bend, is also a great twist that is suitable for students at every level to open the hips, hamstrings and stretch the back.
(Pronounced as "JAH-new SHEAR-SHAHS-anna")
The word janu in Sanskrit means "knee," and sirsa means "head."
Sit on your yoga mat with your legs stretched straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee, grab your right ankle and pull the ankle all the way back so that your heel comes in contact with your perineum. You can also place your heel against your inner right groin if you have the flexibility. The rest of your right leg will rest by your right side on the floor. If you feel any discomfort in your right knee, you can place a folded yoga blanket underneath it.
Adjust your right foot, making sure that your right big toe touches the inside of your left thigh. The angle between your bent leg and straight leg should be at least 90 degrees or preferably more if you have the flexibility. Now extend both of your arms forward and grab the toes of your left foot with your hands. You can also grab both sides of your left shin if you cannot reach your left foot.
Look up. Rotate your torso to face your left foot as you lengthen your spine to come forward. If this stretch is comfortable for you, then try to grab both sides of your left foot and finally stretch deeper to hold both sides of your left heel.
Engage your left thigh muscles, pressing your whole left leg straight down into the mat. The back of your left knee should reach the mat. Breathe normally. On your inhalations, twist your torso a bit more to the left. On exhalations, reach forward more. When you have reached forward as far as you can, then roll your torso down to touch your left leg on an exhalation. First your stomach touches the leg, then the chest and finally your head should rest on your left knee. Keep the left leg straight and the toes of the left foot pointing up straight to the ceiling.
Lift your sternum to stop your back from hunching over as you keep the entire torso extending slightly forward. Your chest should stay on your left leg. Press both of your sitting bones evenly into the floor. Flattening the small of your back, see if you can lengthen your spine even more to touch your knee with your nose, and then stretch further to touch your knee with your chin. If you cannot make contact with your knee without rounding your back, then you can put a blanket on top of the knee and rest your head on the blanket.
Hold the posture for 30 seconds at first. Then as you practice more, increase the hold up to several minutes. Repeat the posture for the same duration on the other side.
If you cannot grab the foot of your extended leg, then use a yoga belt. Put the belt behind the sole of your foot just underneath the ball of your foot. Hold one end of the belt in each hand. Then bend forward and slowly walk your hands further down the belt to your foot to lengthen your spine. Always lift your chest first and then bend forward without collapsing your chest in.
Once you progress in this pose and gain more flexibility, then you can increase the angle between your bent leg and straight leg to more than 90 degrees and move your heel from the perineum to the inner groin of the thigh that you have bent back. Then as you lean forward, extend your arms even further forward to grab your wrist with the other hand around the foot of your straightened leg.
In some yoga flow sequences, it is easy to come into this pose from Upavishtha Konasana -- or Seated Angle Pose. Simply pull one foot in toward your perineum at a time to stretch each side. Then you can stretch the arm closest to your bent leg up over your head and twist your torso sideways, rotating your chest to face the ceiling for a deeper release in your lower back.
The action of pushing your bent knee back is what helps you extend forward completely in this posture. To help you feel this important stretch, ask a partner to stand at your side near your bent knee when you come into the pose. After you have reached forward to grab your foot, they should stand with the inside of their ankle against your bent knee on the floor. Have them gradually press your bent knee with their foot to move your knee back as far as you can, trying to form a 90-degree angle between your bent leg and your straightened leg. Then they can stand so that the resistance from their ankle against your knee holds your knee back while you reach further forward. Have them press the middle of your back down with their hands if your back is rolling up.
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