Posts by: Griffin

Upavistha Konasana A

Upavistha Konasana A

  • Upavistha: Seated
  • Kona: Angle
  • Asana: Pose

Upavistha Konasana A is the twenty-fifth pose of the primary series, and the twentieth seated pose.

While both this pose and Baddha Konasana focus on the area of the groin/inner thigh, the position of the legs emphasizes the length of the hamstrings, unlike Baddha Konasana. Specifically, semimembranosus, one of the three hamstring muscles, is lengthened, unlike a forward fold such as Paschimottanasana which is more likely to involve the other hamstring muscles.


This pose largely follows the same pattern as other forward folding asana. The main difference in action is that both legs externally rotate. There can be a tendency as you fold forward for the feet to turn, too, so that the medial side of the feet comes towards or touches the ground and the foot becomes parallel to the ground. Instead, externally rotate enough that the toes point straight up to the ceiling, perpendicular to the floor.

As the fold deepens, the first part of the upper body that touches the floor would be the ribs. Secondly, the chin can lightly touch down. If the head touches down first, but there is space between the chest and the floor, the spine is in too much flexion.

The angle of the legs is between 90-120° as feels best to you. The point is not to bring your legs as wide as you can. Indeed, if you take the feet too wide you will be unable to reach the feet.

Principles of Forward Folding:

Vinyasa of the Pose

From Sat, jump through and land in Dandasana.

Inhaling, bring the legs to a 90-120° angle.

Exhale, fold forward enough to grasp the big toes or the outer edges of the feet.

Inhale, lengthen and reset, reaching the heart through the arms. Spread the toes wide and press the feet into the hands.

Exhale, fold forward fully. Gaze down the length of the nose. Try to lengthen the spine and fold crisply, so that the belly and ribs come to the floor before the head.  Spend 5 cycles of breath here; this is the state of the asana.

Upavistha Konasana

Inhale, transition to Upavistha Konasana B.*

*Typically one lifts straight up into this next asana without an intervening vinyasa.


Struggle is not necessary; find the comfortable point of leverage to work from. If your back is rounded, or you feel as if you’re falling or rolling backwards rather than folding forward, take your hands a small distance behind you. Press your palms into the ground firmly and lean back slightly; lift the heart towards the ceiling. Focus on lengthening the belly and pressing the sitting bones firmly down into the ground.

You will be much better served by starting to find how the pelvis moves, and creating length in the low belly and groin, than in slumping forward. Not only is struggling to fold forward with very tight muscles likely to feel uncomfortable or restrictive, it only serves to reinforce negative patterns of posture and alignment. Back off to the point at which you feel like you feel upright and comfortable. As you gain mobility, only fold forward to the point that you can maintain this sense of length in the front mid-line of the body.

Practice rolling the hips forward and back (anterior and posterior tilt) so that you can feel the difference; after a few times, tilt the hips as far forward as you can, coming into a gentle backbend.

Baddha Konasana

Baddha Konasana

  • Baddha: Bound
  • Kona: Angle
  • Asana: Pose

Baddha Konasana is the twenty-fourth pose of the primary series, and the nineteenth seated pose. It has three forms: upright, folded, and flexed.

In this asana, the feet press together and the knees press towards or into the ground.


The prime focus as you begin working in this pose is to anteriorly tilt the pelvis. This action can be overdone if you’re hypermobile, but the vast majority of practitioners experience a posteriorly tilted pelvis in this asana. (For more on pelvic tilt, read: Understanding Pelvic Tilt.The movement of the knees towards the ground—the lengthening of the adductors and groin musculature—ought to be secondary to establishing a firm, upright position. ‘A’ Variation is the place to work on bringing the knees towards the ground; ‘B’ & ‘C’ emphasize the the full range of motion of the pelvis, and the knees reaching the earth is of lesser concern.

In the first form of this pose, the spine should be in a neutral position. In the second form, the spine is in slight flexion. In the third form, the spine is in deep flexion and the pelvis posteriorly rotated.

Even if, especially if, you’re very stiff, kyphotic, and posteriorly rotated, be sure that you’re making the effort of anterior tilt, even though actual movement may be slight.

In all variations, the prime action of the legs is one of external rotation, rather than simply pressing straight down. The sensation is that of rolling the thighs back, towards the sacrum. You can use your hands to help at first, if that action is hard to find. Between variations, allow the hips to move freely; the legs will naturally alternate between the actions of internal and external rotation as you move.

‘A’ Variation

In the first form, Baddha Konasana A, the knees close fully, the feet come to touch, and the hands grasp the feet. Bring the heels as close to the hips as possible. For the knees to come to the ground, the heels will need to be no more than a couple of inches from the pelvis. Do not try and push your knees to the ground, or have someone else push your knees to the ground, if the feet are farther away. That will generate a twisting force in the knee, which is asking for injury.

Therefore, if your feet do not touch your pelvis: focus just as much on, over time, bringing the feet closer to the body as you do on moving the knees towards the ground.

The hands turn the soles of the feet upwards. This is done in order to (1) activate the lateral hip muscles, which will help bring the knees towards the earth, and (2) further isolate and lengthen the inner thigh muscles. This action is done in all 3 forms. The hands and arms also tug gently on the feet, pulling the heart through the arms; in this way, encouraging the heart to lift upright and the practitioner to retain an upright and noble carriage rather than slouching or slumping.

As in other forward folds, the line of the collarbones should be lengthened, and the shoulders back (until they reach a neutral position: no pinching the shoulder blades together).

‘B’ Variation

Following from the A variation, maintain all actions except:

  • Space the feet 4-6 inches from the pelvis (allow the knees to come off the floor, if they were touching). If the feet aren’t distanced in this way, the sitting bones can lift off the ground when you fold forward.
  • Fold forward as much as the body allows without slumping. That may be only a slight movement of several inches, or to such a degree as the ribs touch the feet. Do not strive beyond your flexibility; aggressively trying to reach your head to the ground and sacrificing the necessary alignments of the spine and hips will work to your disadvantage. If you’re quite flexible, the chin touches the ground.
  • Rather than focusing on head-to-ground, focus on bringing the heart forward so that the sternum touches the knees.

‘C’ Variation

Following from the B variation, sit upright, rock the pelvis into a posterior tilt, round the back deeply, and tug on the feet: fold the forehead towards or to touch the toes.

Vinyasa of the Pose

From Sat, jump through and land in Dandasana.

Inhale, bend the knees into the chest, press the feet together and open the knees wide. Press the pinky edges of the feet together; sit upright; gaze down the length of the nose. Stay here for five breaths; this is the state of Baddha Konasana ‘A.’

Baddha Konasana A Side View Baddha Konasana A

Exhale, nudge the feet out a few inches if they’re quite close the pelvis, then fold forward. Only fold as much as you can with a straight spine. Stay here for five breaths; this is the state of Baddha Konasana ‘B.’ Maintain the intelligent action of the legs in external rotation.


Inhale and sit upright. Round your back, starting at the pelvis. Take the time to flex each part of the spine fully.

Exhale, fold forward and reach your head towards your toes. Stay here for five breaths; this is the state of Baddha Konasana ‘c.’

Baddha Konasana C

Inhale, sit upright. Hug the knees into the chest.  

Exhale, take vinyasa.


If you’re feeling stiff, and/or the pelvis will not tip forward while you’re sitting on the ground, seat yourself on a blanket, block, or bolster, in order to elevate the hips. This will help you bring your feet in closer. Be sure that you sit towards the front edge of your chosen support, such that you’re able to cultivate a sense of tipping forward rather than rolling back. Over time, take this sense, and the forward direction of movement, to a seat on the floor.

If sitting upright in ‘A’ variation is challenging, do not practice ‘B’ until it seems both comfortable and necessary to do so. ‘C’ variation is still appropriate.

If you have had knee injury or surgery, and/or feel a pinching sensation when the knee is closed fully in this way, place a rolled up washcloth or piece of fabric behind the knee. When you squeeze the cloth with your knee, the bones of the femur and tibia will be held slightly apart. In the majority of cases, this alleviates or eliminates any pinching sensation or pain. The more severe the injury, the greater amount of cloth should be used. The support can be reduced over time as the joint heals. It’s also helpful when recovering from a knee injury to sit up higher using blankets.

If your knees don’t touch the ground, you might find it helpful to place a block beneath each leg so you can find the sensation of pressing down through the legs and the activation of the outer hip muscles. This is neuro-educational only; do not become reliant.


Avoid slouching or hunching forward.

Do not press your knees to the ground if the feet are not within 2-3 inches of the pelvis.



  • Kukkuta: Rooster
  • Asana: Pose

Kukkutasana is the twenty-third pose of the primary series, and the eighteenth seated pose. This is the final pose of what is often called the “apex” of the Primary series—five challenging asana in the middle of the sequence.

Kukkutasana, an arm balance, is entered directly from Garbha Pindasana. It can only be performed in Lotus. (If attempted with the legs not in lotus, it becomes Bhujapidasana.)


Maintain as much flexion of the spine as possible, especially rounding the back and lifting between the shoulder blades. Keep the shoulder blades as wide as possible, wrapping around to the sides of the ribs.

Exiting the posture by jumping back from lotus requires a great deal of strength of the sort derived from the practice of ordinary jump backs and uthplitihi.

Vinyasa of the Pose

On the ninth rock forward from Garbha Pindasana, come onto your hands and balance for five breaths. This is the state of the pose.


Exhaling, slide the lotus down the arms until you’re seated.

Inhale, lift the lotus (or come onto the knees; described below).

Exhale, jump back.


Jumping back in lotus is quite challenging. A way to build up to it is to rock forward from seated lotus onto your knees, place the arms shoulder width apart so the elbows are just under the body, then attempt to balance on the elbows. From there, straighten the legs and come down into chatvari.


Once you’re ready to try something more challenging, try “hooking” one lotus foot behind an arm before you lift up. That way, you’ll have additional leverage.

Then, one day, you’ll simply be able to lift up and jump back:

Lotus jump-back

A video posted by Ashtanga Yoga Room (@yogawithgriffinamelia) on


Do not allow the shoulder blades to pinch together or the arms to go dead. Press firmly through the hands, round the back, and lift as high from the ground as possible.

Ashtanga Mantra

Ashtanga Mantra

Everywhere in the world, Ashtanga yoga practice begins with this mantra. To a long-time practitioner, it becomes a familiar friend and a welcoming presence, a signal to release the body and mind into the present moment. Mantra is not a blind devotion or guru-worship or religious indoctrination. It is a tool that we use to focus our minds.

This transliteration is written phonetically for ease of learning. It is broken up by syllable for easy pronunciation. The IAST transliteration, along with the Sanskrit and full translation, is below.

vande gurunam charanara vinde

sandarsita svatma sukhava bodhe

nishre yase jangali kaya mane

samsara halahala moha shantayai


abahu purusha karam

shankha chakrasi dharinam

sahasra shirasum shvetum

prana mami patanjalim


The opening mantra conveys a literal meaning, a metaphorical meaning, and an attitude. Each is equally valid and necessary.

The attitude it engenders is one of receptivity. It serves as a reminder that we learn by the grace of our teachers—whoever and whatever they may be—and that, no matter how “advanced” we become, we always come to the practice as students. To be effective Yoga practitioners, we must expunge arrogance or conceit and be willing to learn and grow.

Metaphorically, the first verse expresses gratitude to any and all teachers and the role they serve as healers; poisoned as we are by our participation and belief in cyclical patterns, our teachers help us to pacify harmful delusions. They are shamans, or physicians, who can enter the twisted “jungle” of our minds and guide us toward healing. They have walked the path that we are on, and they can provide guidance. Gurunam, or “the plurality of teachers,” can also mean “teachings as a principle,” encompassing all beings and situations, intentional or accidental, that have provided the fuel and means for us to learn.

According to most teachings, the second verse describes the archetypal Yogi, Patanjali. Alternatively, it can be translated to be in reference to the same subject as the first verse (the plurality of teachers.) We are thankful for his contributions to the Yoga system and also seek to emulate him in Yoga practice. He is described as holding three objects, which is to say, having three main characteristics:

  • A conch shell. The conch shell is traditionally used at the start of puja (ritual ceremony) in India. It symbolizes divine sound, truth. The yogi seeks both to “hear” and generate truth.
  • A wheel or disc. The chakra, or disc, represents a comprehension of cyclical patterns, of time, and, inversely, of eternity.
  • A double-edged sword. The Yogi uses the “sword” of discrimination to “cut” or distinguish between truth and illusion. The Yogi seeks to cultivate the intelligence of discrimination; this quality is “double edged” because it shreds both external and internal illusions. Falsehoods of “external” reality fall away from the Yogi, and so too do internal self-deceptions, self-concepts, and ego structures. This process is often quite painful, perhaps more so than being cut with a physical sword.

Having mastered these, Patanjali is further described as having “a thousand radiant white heads.” This is often visually represented as cobras “hooding” or surrounding Patanjali’s head. This references Kundalini (“coiled one”), which is represented as a serpent sleeping coiled at the base of the spine. All sensation and experience is ultimately a manifestation of Kundalini. Patanjali, having reached a level of mastery with form and spirit, has awakened Kundalini.

Literal Translation

वन्दे गुरूणां चरणारविन्दे सन्दर्शित स्वात्म सुखावबोधे ।
निःश्रेयसे जाङलिकायमाने संसर हालाहल मोहशान्त्यै ॥

आबाहु पुरुशाकारं शंन्खचक्रासि धारिणम् ।
सहस्र शिर्समं श्वेतमं प्रणमामि पतञ्जलिम् ॥

vande gurūṇāṃ caraṇāravinde sandarśita svātma sukhāvabodhe ।
niḥśreyase jāṅgalikāyamāne saṃsara hālāhala mohaśāntyai ॥

ābāhu puruśākāraṃ śaṅkhacakrāsi dhāriṇam ।
sahasra śirsamaṃ śvetamaṃ praṇamāmi patañjalim ॥

I praise the lotus-feet of my teachers,
who show [the method of] becoming aware of the joy in my own self;
They serve as jungle physicians,
pacifying the poisonous delusions of cyclical existence.

I bow to Patanjali, who has a half-human form,
a thousand radiant heads, a conch-shell, a discus, and a sword.

This translation is with the assistance of my teachers and lineage.

Alternative translation:

I praise the lotus-feet of my teachers,
who show [the method of] becoming aware of the joy in my own self;
They have the knowledge to show everyone the way through the jungle,
pacifying the poisonous delusions of cyclical existence.

They are the few, among multitudes.
With a conch-shell, a disc, and a sword they rend asunder;
They have a thousand radiant heads.
I bow to these philosopher physicians.

This has a somewhat different flavor than many common translations for this mantra. I am not a Sanskrit scholar. Translation is, by nature, inescapably imprecise and there is always a measure of interpretation and adaptation necessary. By presenting this translation, I am not implying that other translations are incorrect. However, there is a tradition in Sanskrit of playing word-games and deliberately crafting passages that can be legitimately read in several different, but ultimately consistent, ways. The first verse is from the Yoga Taravali, a classic yoga text. The second verse is of unconfirmed origin.

The feet are considered important because the feet are the organ of action for travel, the vehicle for the journey of wisdom. In India, aspirants commonly touch the feet of their teacher or a statue, and then their own forehead, in hopes that some of the शेषा shesha (dust or residue) of that journey will bring good fortune on one’s own path. There are many variations on this: sometimes a devotee will touch their teacher’s feet, then their own eyes, ears, and mouth.

Shesha also refers to the remains of an offering. When puja (ceremony) is done, the flowers/food/etc offered to the deity is not thrown away. Instead, it is considered to have been blessed by the deva (deity) and is distributed amongst the worshipers and attendants.

These are the dictionary definitions of the words in the mantra:

वन्दे : Vande : I Praise

गुरुणां : Gurunam : The plurality of all teachers

चरण : Carana : Feet / Root

अरविन्द : Aravinda : Lotus Flower

सन्दर्शित : Sandarsita : Shown / represented

स्वात्म : Svatma : Sva Atma : Own self / True nature

सुख : Sukha : Pleasant or joy

अवबोधे : Avabodhe : Avabuddhyate :  To become aware of / to inform or explain

निःश्रेयस : Nishreyase : Best

जाङल् : Jangal : Jungle

कय​ : Kaya : Every one

अमनि: Amani : Way or road

संसार : Samsara : Cycle of worldly existence

हलाहल : Haalaahala : Deadly poison

मोह : Moha : Delusion

शान्तयति { शान्तय् } : Shantiyai : Pacify

अबहु : Abahu : Few

पुरुष : Purusha : Men

आकर : Akaram : Of multitudes

शङ्ख : Shanka : Conch Shell

चक्र : Chakra : Disc or wheel

असि : Asi : Sword

दारि : Dari : To tear asunder. Darinam is the “plural” case, meaning an uncounted/uncountable number.

सहस्र : Sahasra : Thousand

शीर्ष : Sirsam : Heads

श्वेत : Sveta : White

प्रणाम : Pranama : Bow or respectful salutation

मीनाति { मी } : Minati { Mi } : To make

पतञ्जलि : Patanjalim : to Physicians / Philosophers (the name has become a title)

How to Breathe: Ujjayi

How to Breathe: Ujjayi

Ujjayi, “victorious,” breath is central to a fruitful practice of Ashtanga Yoga. It is performed continuously during the practice of asana.


Ujjayi is performed by lightly constricting the musculature of the throat so that the epiglottis is slightly closed. This creates friction as breath passes through the narrowed opening of the airway. Then, with the lips sealed, the breath is directed through the nostrils. A gentle hissing sound, similar to that of wind moving through distant trees, arises; listen. The pace of the breath should be slow.


Beyond the general benefits of deep, regular breathing, Ujjayi also generates internal heat. Panting is a method of cooling; Ujjayi keeps heat within.

Constricting the musculature of the inner throat aids in restoring healthful alignment to the neck. Members of modern, western societies typically have very tight or toned muscles at the back of the neck, including the trapezius and spinal muscles. Ujjayi helps to restore tone to the center/front of the neck musculature. Under stress or strain, Ujjayi serves to keep the facial muscles relaxed and unclenched.

By creating a sensation of suction/friction, Ujjayi draws attention to both the internal edge of the spine as well as the diaphragm.

By requiring consistent attention, Ujjayi serves as a tool for developing concentration and the faculty of listening.

Focus on the breath, combined with the gentle, rhythmic sound of Ujjayi, is often soothing and engenders a more tranquil state of mind.


Place your palm in front of your open mouth. “Huff” the breath into your hand, as if you were fogging up a mirror or pair of glasses, or saying “Haaaaaaaa.” Repeat this several times until it becomes familiar. This is the same muscular action as Ujjayi.

Now, gently close your mouth without clenching your jaw. Breath through the nose while maintaining the same sensation in the throat. Ujjayi is continuous through both inhalation and exhalation.

Garbha Pindasana

Garbha Pindasana

  • Garbha: Womb
  • Pinda: Embryo
  • Asana: Pose

Garbha Pindasana is the twenty-second pose of the primary series, and the seventeenth seated pose. This is the fourth pose of what is often called the “apex” of the Primary series—five challenging asana in the middle of the sequence.

Garbha Pindasana is a dynamic asana, still for five breaths and nine breaths while moving. The practitioner rolls the length of the spine nine times, said to symbolize the nine months of gestation.

It requires a very specific strength of the deep low belly, and helps to massage and align the spine. Like all of the apex postures of the primary series, it is a deep spinal flexion.


This asana can be performed either in lotus or unbound, with crossed legs. In either case, it’s important to keep the spine deeply rounded, in full flexion. Endeavor to bring the hands and the head together, and to keep the hands touching the head while you roll. This will not only make the movement smoother, preventing flailing and throwing oneself about, but also encourage deeper flexion (better roll), and most importantly, force the deep abdominal muscles below the navel to work. If the hands and the head are apart, it’s easier to use momentum, or to roll upright by jerking the limbs.

Unbound Form

From seated, cross the legs at the ankle. Flex the feet fully, “locking” them together, then create stability and strength by trying to actively abduct the legs/pull the feet apart. This helps to make up for the stability that would be gained from binding in lotus.

Next, reach between the legs and either (a) lace the fingers together around the feet or (b) grasp the ears or hair with your fingers.

Lotus Form

From seated, place the legs into lotus. Squeeze the knees together, tightening the lotus. Reach the arms through the legs until they have passed through the lotus just beyond the elbows. Then, rest the chin in the hands or grasp the ears or hair.

The initial position is to balance on the sacrum for five breaths, as close to the tailbone as possible. After five breaths, rock nine times, turning clockwise each time. Rock all the way to balance on your shoulders. Turn the pelvis slightly, twisting the spine, while on the shoulders in order to turn. If you’re grasping the ears or hair while upright, continue to hold while you rock. The hands should not be allowed to come away from the head as you rock. You will likely find this requires an additional, or different, strength.

Each rock should be a controlled alternation between being balanced on the sacrum and on the shoulders, rather than shallow rocks on the torso or overzealous, unbalanced attempts. Use the breath intelligently, exhaling fully and quickly as you rock forward, inhaling as you roll backward. “Control” means that you should be able to stop and balance at any time on either the shoulders or pelvis, and not to rely on momentum to complete the movement.

Vinyasa of the Pose

From Sat, jump through and land in Dandasanainhale.

Exhale, place the limbs in either unbound or lotus form. Lift the legs and balance on the pelvis, as near to the tailbone as possible. Five breaths here.

Garbha-pindasana-side Garbha-pindasana

Inhale to rock back, exhale to rock forward. Repeat nine times, turning clockwise in a circle.


Exhale rock forward; release the hands and transition to Kukkutasana.


If you’re just beginning, and it’s challenging to coordinate turning in a circle while rocking, just rock forward and back without turning. After becoming familiar with the motion, try to incorporate the turn. It’s easy to get “stuck” on your back, or, in lotus, to accidentally roll over onto your side and get stuck. After practicing just forward-and-back for a couple weeks, you’ll be able to add the turn in. If you do find yourself getting stuck, try focusing more on moving with the flow of the breath and coordinating a strong exhalation with the rock forward.

It’s common when beginning this posture to have difficulty putting the arms through the lotus. You can do one side at a time by, from seated, placing the right arm in the crook of the right knee, then placing the right leg in lotus. Place the left arm in the left knee, then wriggle the left foot into lotus behind the right arm. I don’t recommend doing this for a long period of time, but it can help create additional space in the lotus.


Traditionally, the turn is performed clockwise only. However, you may wish to experiment with turning counterclockwise, as well.

While turning, you will likely roll off of your mat. If the ground hurts your spine, try placing two mats side-by-side for additional padding.


Avoid rocking part-way up and down, rolling only on the mid-back.

If you’re prone to excessive lumbar lordosis, or anterior pelvic tilt, you might find that you’re “smacking” down rather than rolling. Try to emphasize posterior pelvic tilt; you can also try tucking the chin to the chest and grasping the top of the skull rather than the sides, which helps to flex the spine further.


Supta Kurmasana

Supta Kurmasana

  • Supta: Sleeping
  • Kurma: Turtle
  • Asana: Pose

Supta Kurmasana is the twenty-first pose of the primary series, and the sixteenth seated pose. This is the third pose of what is often called the “apex” of the Primary series—five challenging asana in the middle of the sequence.

Supta Kurmasana is the deepest forward fold of the Primary series. It has several manifestations. The first two forms described here can be perfected during the course of learning the Primary series. The final form, with both legs crossed behind the head, is best added after some degree of competency has been gained with the Intermediate series. Inability to put the legs behind the head should not be a bar or disqualification to learning the full Primary series and beginning practice of the Intermediate.


All forms of this pose emphasize deep spinal flexion, combined with full external rotation of the legs. The latter two forms also demand shoulder mobility in internal rotation.

From all forms, EXIT CAREFULLY. The same holds true for any pose. This asana, with deep spinal flexion, plus a bind, and potentially with the weight of the feet on the head, can be dangerous if you exit haphazardly, let the hands or feet pop apart, or do not pay heed to what is happening in your body.

Initial Form

This form is an introduction to the pose. It starts to establish the necessary patterns, and will be outgrown within a few weeks or months of consistent practice. It does not require shoulder mobility, and the position of the arms inherently limits it; the arrangement of the upper arms will prevent deep flexion. Once sufficient flexibility has been gained, therefore, this form must be abandoned.

From Kurmasana, sit up just enough that you can bring the feet together. Press the heels together firmly, and point the toes out to the sides. With the arms woven beneath the legs, grasp over the tops of the feet and pull, as if twisting the throttle of a motorcycle. The feet should be a middling distance from the pelvis, such that they are beneath the head. Fold forward deeply, tugging with the arms, and reach the head to touch the heels; or work towards that eventuality. Hold for five or more breaths, then sit up and take Vinyasa.supta-kurmasana-variation

Primary Form

From Kurmasana, sit up just enough that you can wriggle the feet together. Keep the arms angled away behind you. With the head on the ground inside the heels, walk the right foot on top of the left, so that the ankles are crossed. Exhaling deeply, reach the arms back, then wrap them around the legs, across the lower back, and bind the hands together. Keep the feet actively pulling against one another, toes spreading. Hold for five or more breaths, then sit up and take Vinyasa. (Lift through Tittibhasana if desired)

Supta Kurmasana Primary Form

Vinyasa of the Pose

This form is appropriate for those who can put both feet behind their head with relative ease. It should be added after the practitioner has developed competency with Intermediate series through Yoga Nidrasana.

From Kurmasana, sit up just enough that you can wriggle the feet together. Keep the arms angled away behind you. With the head on the ground inside the heels, lift the left heel and place it behind the head. Next, lift the right heel and cross it behind the left. Use the power of your legs to do so, keeping the hands on the ground behind you. Bind the hands together behind the back. The legs should cross over the neck, as low as possible, not the head. Supta Kurmasana

Five breaths here; this is the state of the pose.

Suptka-kurmasana-frontNow, exhaling, unbind the hands and place them to either side of the heart.

Inhale, lift up. As your arms straighten, unbind the feet to come to Tittibhasana.


Exhale, jump back to catvari and take vinyasa.

Alternative entrance: From Kurmasana, sit up and place the legs behind the head (using the hands if needed) as in Dwi Pada Sirsasana. Then, slowly lower yourself, using your hands, until the forehead touches the ground. Snake the arms back to bind behind the back.


If none of the above stages is accessible to you, it is best to revisit the previous forward folding postures until the requisite flexibility develops.

As an intermediate exploration between the Primary form and the leg-behind-head version, try placing the crossed ankles on a block or bolster, then placing the head on the ground just inside the heels.

If the bind is close, but the hands don’t quite come together, use a strap or washcloth to bridge the gap. Walk the hands closer and closer until they meet.


Do not be too ambitious here. For the final form, Dwi Pada Sirsasana and Yoga Nidrasana should be comfortable. Otherwise, this position will exert a great deal of force on the neck and lower back and can be uncomfortable or injurious. Until that point, be content with the Primary form of the posture.

As with any asana, collapsing or flopping into the posture will not serve you well.



  • Kurma: Turtle (Typically considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu, supporting the world upon his back)
  • Asana: Pose

Kurmasana is the twentieth pose of the primary series, and the fifteenth seated pose. This is the second pose of what is often called the “apex” of the Primary series—five challenging asana in the middle of the sequence.

Kurmasana requires significant hamstring length, the most of any pose in the Primary series. The final action of Kurmasana—lifting the heels off the ground—demands strength of the quadriceps at their shortest length.


This pose need not be attempted or added into the sequence until sufficient flexibility has been developed from the preceding forward fold postures. Keep in mind the lessons taught by those postures, too:

Principles of Forward Folding:

The arm position in Kurmasana distinguishes it from most forward folds. The angle of both the legs and arms should be narrow. The legs should cross well above the elbows, near or on the shoulder.

While some spinal flexion is necessary, a “collapse” is not. Length must be teased out of the front of the body, so that the belly is long and the sternum can touch the ground. The head should be placed lightly on the mat, with the chin touching down; it should not be uncomfortable. The sternum should be on the ground and bear weight. If the shoulders are bearing weight but the sternum is not touching the ground, the technique is incorrect and will lead to stress and tension of the shoulders and neck. The collarbones and upper arm should be in a gentle external rotation in order to counteract the tendency of internal rotation caused by the position of the body.

Vinyasa of the Pose

Seated Vinyasa (More conservative):

From Sat, jump through and land in Dandasana. Bend the knees, and bring the feet to floor just wider than the edges of the mat. Fold forward and tuck the arms under the legs, positioning appropriately. Exhale fully as you get into position.

Kurmasana Entrance

Inhale, straighten the legs fully. Lift the heels. This is the state of Kurmasana; hold five breaths.


Exhale, let the heels down and bend the knees slightly.

Inhale, Untuck the arms and sit upright.

Exhale, enter Supta Kurmasana. (no vinyasa)

Floating Vinyasa (More demanding):

From Sat, jump into Tittibhasana.


Exhaling, bend the knees and arms, lowering yourself to the ground so that the heels and sitting bones touch down simultaneously. Turn the hands and reach the arms back behind you, coming into the Kurmasana position.

Kurmasana Entrance

Inhale, straighten the legs fully. Lift the heels. This is the state of Kurmasana; hold five breaths.


Exhale, let the heels down and bend the knees slightly. Enter Supta Kurmasana.


If your hamstrings have gained some flexibility, but you’re not quite able to find the deepest expression of this posture, I recommend keeping the knees a bit more deeply bent. Rather than staying static—or stuck—in the pose, stretched to your limit, come out a little bit, then rhythmically bend and straighten the knees, pulling and pressing the heels. They will probably slide somewhat, which is good. If they don’t, place them on a blanket to help get a bit of slide. Bend the elbows, pulling the hands into the floor.

After bending and straightening at least five times, hold for five breaths maintaining the same sense of engagement.

Kurmasana Alternative


Legs are often placed too widely—the angle should be approximately or close to 45 degrees, close the edges of the mat, not 90°+.

Pain in the elbows is common for beginners. It is typically due to improper placement of the legs. Pain arises when the legs cross directly over or near the elbows, causing too much pressure. The legs need to be placed farther up the arms. Often, narrowing the angle of the arms, rather than having them pointing out to the sides, can help alleviate this issue as well.

If pain does not subside, revisit other forward folding postures until sufficient flexibility is developed.



  • Bhuja: Arm / Shoulder
  • Pida: Pressure
  • Asana: Pose

Bhujapidasana is the nineteenth pose of the primary series, and the fourteenth seated pose. This is the first pose of what is often called the “apex” of the Primary series—five challenging asana in the middle of the series.

It is the first arm balance in the primary series to be held for five breaths. Throughout the earlier parts of the sequence, strength has been developing by supporting the body on the hands during the jump forward and back, but this is the first named arm balance.

This pose is the summary and archetype of the primary series, encapsulating the lessons and actions that the series is constructed around: hip and hamstring flexibility, shoulder strength, and healthful spinal flexion.

A certain measure of hip flexibility is necessary to begin working into this asana. However, the name given this posture implies one of the main actions necessary: shoulder pressure, or, squeezing the shoulders with the legs. This dual necessity of flexibility integrated with strength of the inner thighs and low belly gives it a unique value amongst arm balances.

This pose has two versions: lifted, and bowed. The transition between the two variations is especially useful in developing coordination and strength.


This posture has one of the most dramatic evolutions of any in the primary series. In the beginning stages, it is best to take this slowly, set up deliberately, and take extra breaths. After diligent practice, it becomes possible to maintain a more minimal breath count, and to jump fluidly into position. Be patient!

In either case, the most important part is to place the legs as high up the arms as possible, near or on the shoulders. Then, squeeze, round the back, and press the floor away. This creates lift—otherwise, the asana will be rather ‘flat’ and the feet will not rise far from the ground.

To this point, the practitioner has been trying to remove deep flexion from the spine, keeping it closer to neutral for forward folding. This is the first position of the primary series in which deep flexion is to be encouraged. This is the introduction to a family of arm balances in which deep flexion is necessary to more fully access the strength of the shoulder blades, lats, and side abdominal strength. Shallow flexion is called for in seated or standing forward folds because of the way that the lumbar spine transfers weight to the pelvis; too much flexion stresses the lumbar intervertebral discs. When the weight of the body is on the hands, deep flexion does not pose the same hazard. Indeed, the situation is reversed: deep flexion is necessary in order to maintain the health of the shoulder blades, thoracic vertebrae, and neck. Without full flexion, the body “hangs” off the muscles and ligaments that connect the shoulder blades to the ribs. With no bony joint, there is a greater risk of overstretching or hypertension (often manifested as rock-hard rhomboids and trapezius). Furthermore, the action of creating flexion creates stability in this pose, and prevents wobbling.

The deep flexion of this pose is especially strong during the initial jump, the lifted position, and jumping back. The upper spine is relatively straight in the bowed pose, though the lower back maintains flexion.

Other arm balances in this deep flexion family include the various bakasanas, tittibhasana, all forms of kukkutasana, karandavasana, galavasana, and utpluthih. Not all arm balances share this similarity, however.

In the lifted version of Bhujapidasana, the arms are straight; they bend deeply in the bowed version.


For beginners, or for those who the bowed version is not appropriate, it’s a good idea to stay in the lifted version.

I will first discuss a method for stepping into the posture and working into it. Over time, integrate the traditional vinyasa count.

From adho mukha svanasana, (downward facing dog), bend the knees deeply, look forward past the hands, and crouch—as if a cat, ready to pounce. Bend and straighten the knees a couple times; try and feel the connection to the hips and pelvic floor.


Next, hop the feet wide to land in front of the hands. Jump as far forward as you can in order to get the knees high on the shoulders. It’s okay if the wrists come up off the ground a little (as pictured).


Next, sit back onto the hands, settling the weight into the fingers and palms. Try to avoid dead hands, which compromises the structure of the wrist and carpal tunnel. Bend the arms deeply, and “sit” across the upper arms. As you find your balance on the hands, wriggle the feet closer together until you can cross the ankles. It is worth the extra effort to cross the ankles. Leaving the feet uncrossed, even if they are touching, undermines the actions at work here.

Squeeze the knees into the arms firmly and straighten the arms to lift the feet. Round the back. To find the balance, you may need to explore the edge between keeping the pelvis so lifted that the feet are stuck on the ground and lowering the hips so much that you lose your balance and fall out of the posture. (Note the angle of the femurs—there needs to be a slight upward angle.)


And, voila! Bhujapidasana. Stay here five breaths, then either let the feet come down and ease out (shift your weight forward to come back onto your feet rather than crashing down onto your sitting bones), or work on jumping back. Alternatively, stay for five breaths, then work on lowering down and coming back up once or several times.Bhujapidasana

Vinyasa of the Pose

Note: the feet do not touch the ground at any point of the following vinyasa count.

From Sat, jump and land in the lifted version of Bhujapidasana.


Inhale, round the back and look forward.

Exhale, start to bend the elbows, and fold forward until the chin* lightly touches the ground. The feet will need to point in order to tuck back through the arms without touching the ground. This is the state of the pose; hold here for five breaths.


Inhale, lift back up.


On the same inhalation, straighten the legs.


Exhale, tuck the legs back to a bakasana-like position.


On the same exhalation, float back to catvari and take vinyasa.

*For those with a neck injury, or beginners, try placing the crown of the head on the ground instead.


If you’re having trouble finding your balance, the hips are feeling a bit tight, or the wrists are inflexible/painful: experiment with placing blocks and/or a wedge under the hands.

It’s also worth getting into the “leapfrog” position, then sitting down on 2 bolsters. Try and lift up from there.

If you’re working towards lowering your head to the ground, you can place a bolster or block under the head. That way, you’ll have less distance to lower; just be sure you can lift back up.

If you’re having a bit of trouble jumping back, try tucking one leg back at a time. You can even lean a little towards the opposite side to get a bit of extra clearance.


Shoulder blades pinching, or hanging in the joints. Looking down rather than forward.



  • Nava: Boat
  • Asana: Pose

Navasana is the eighteenth pose of the primary series, and the thirteenth seated pose.

Navasana is primarily a strength-building posture, developing the hip flexors, abdominal, and spinal musculature.


Unlike “crunches” of modern exercise routines, the Navasana position is best performed with the spine straight and neutral. This allows the abdominal muscles to strengthen without shortening and hardening. Performing Navasana with a flexed spine, or doing crunches, sit-ups, etc., contributes to the poor posture, back pain, and diminished organ function already endemic to western societies. The tendency towards slouching in this position is understandable: the abdominal muscles—any muscle—are strongest in a somewhat shortened position. This tendency must be abolished in a Yogi, and strength developed equally throughout a muscle’s range of length.

In this way, the psoas and quadriceps are recruited for maintaining the position. A supple and strong psoas, especially, is a requirement of good posture and functional movement. In a slouched position, the psoas is effectively “offline.”

It is preferable to practice with the spine straight, the heart and head lifted, rather than to have the legs straight, if such a choice must be made. As the requisite strength develops, the legs can be straightened fully.

Stage 1

Navasana Variation with bent knees

Balance on the sitting bones, making effort to tip the pelvis anteriorly. If the weight is on the sacrum, or back of the hips, you have rolled too far back. Place the hands behind you to lengthen the collarbones and encourage the heart to lift; don’t allow slouching or rounding of the upper body.

The knees should be together, the legs energetic and the toes spreading. Press forward through the roots of the big toes. Gaze down the length of the nose.

Over time, maintain these actions and take the hands off the ground, extending them straight forward parallel to the floor. Next, work at straightening the legs. Do not sacrifice any of the previously established alignments in order to straighten the legs; be patient for the strength to develop.

The back does not need to be arched, or the pelvis to be anteriorly rotated, but that effort or sensation may be necessary in order to reach a neutral position. In other words, the alignment of the upper body should be as in Samasthiti, despite the influence of gravity.

Vinyasa of the Pose

This pose is held for a total of 25 breaths. Every fifth exhalation, lift up and rock in Lolasana (as discussed here), then set down into another round of Navasana. No additional or “resting” breaths are to be taken. An advanced variation is to lift into handstand from each Navasana, then lower back down without touching the feet to the earth.

From Sat, jump through and land straight in Navasana. There is no Dandasana or other preparatory breath; Navasana begins immediately.


After five full and unhurried breaths, lift up and rock, inhaling.

Navasana lift | Lolasana

Exhaling, set back down into Navasana. Five more breaths;

Inhaling, lift and rock.

Exhaling, set back down for the third round.

After five breaths, inhale, lift and rock.

Exhale into the fourth Navasana.

Inhaling, lift and rock.

Exhale into Navasana; last five breaths.

Inhaling, lift and rock.

Exhale, jump back to take Vinyasa.


If having the hands on the ground behind you as described above is either painful, or does not provide enough lift, try lightly holding the backs of the knees. Be sure not to slouch or let the chest cave in; keep pulling the heart towards the knees.

Navasana Variation

If the coccyx is painful, sit on a blanket or other padding.

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