- Janu: Knee
- Sirsa: Head
- Asana: Pose
Although this pose is intense and demanding, it offers a unique method of enhancing the mobility of the tissues inside the knee joint. Additionally, it is a very therapeutic action on the toes and the plantar fascia (sole of the foot). It encourages the proper tone and lift of the foot’s natural arches.
The following is a discussion of the position on the right side, as pictured. As an asymmetrical posture, it must be repeated on the left side.
This is the most challenging variation, requiring the most flexibility. The main action of this pose is similar to that of A. In C variation, the toes are tucked under so that the right foot is perpendicular to the floor, and the sole of the foot is flush with the left thigh. The bent leg can be arranged at a 45-60° angle. Additional stretch is also possible in the hamstrings of the straight leg.
All the toes should be flexed, so that the ball of the right foot is on the ground, and the right knee touches the ground as well. The heel ought to press into the left thigh firmly.
This pose is rather intense for many practitioners, and it is important to ease into it. Don’t try too much too quickly, and especially avoid putting any weight or trying to force the knee or foot into position.
Janu Sirsasana is a “hip opener,” lengthening the muscles of the inner thigh and groin. The action of the straight leg is that of Paschimottanasana.
There is a slight twisting action in the torso: wrap the length of the spine from root to crown to address the straight leg fully. There can be a tendency for the hips or low belly to face a 45° angle between the femurs, which should be avoided. This is not a posture dedicated to twisting; a ‘counter-twist’ is simply needed to keep facing straight forward.
Vinyasa of the Pose
Inhale, take hold of the right ankle. Turn it so that the toes face down to the mat. With the toes tucked under, take your hands by your sides and move your hips forward so that your foot rotates into a fully vertical position. Reach your hands upwards, and lengthen your torso.
Exhale, fold forward and, holding your right wrist, place the hands against the sole of the left foot with the palms facing away from you.*
Inhale and reset, tugging with the strength of the shoulders to pull the chest through the arms, straightening the spine.
Exhale, fold forward fully. This is the state of Janu Sirsasana C; hold for five breaths.
Inhale, sit up and release both hands, placing them to the sides of the hips. Lift your hips slightly, and move your hips back to release the right foot. DO NOT try and straighten the right leg immediately without moving the hips back—that’s a likely way to injure your knee.
Exhale, jump back and take vinyasa.**
Repeat for the second side.
*Binding the wrist is the preferred method. Alternatives are listed below; if you can hold the wrist, bend the elbows more and more as you gain flexibility to help the torso lengthen.
**Traditionally, vinyasa is taken between sides of asymmetrical postures. If you’re just starting out and building stamina, or have time constraints and require a faster practice, the vinyasa between sides may be omitted
ALTERNATIVES & SOLUTIONS
This pose is fairly demanding and is not appropriate for anyone with an acute knee injury. It should never be forced, and you should not try and push your knee down with your hands. Take care entering and exiting it.
If you want to try it but can’t get all the way into the position, you might find it helpful to stop at the first vinyasa, with the hands lifting the hips up and forwards. This will allow the knee, ankle, and toes to become more accustomed to the position without as much pressure and weight.
If the hamstrings feel quite tight, or if you’re unable to sit up straight (the spine is rounding), place a blanket or block beneath the hips. Add additional support if necessary until both the legs and spine can be straightened.
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 none of these suggestions help, keep practicing Janu Sirsasana A variation and other related poses before integrating this posture.
If your bent knee doesn’t touch the ground, you might find it helpful to place a block under the leg so you can find the sensation of pressing down through the leg.
Make sure that the ball of the foot is on the ground evenly, and that all 5 toes are in contact with the floor and active. Don’t let the foot, heel, ankle, or knee relax in this—stay active and engaged.
Coming out of this pose by immediately trying to straighten your right knee could be disastrous. This pose places a great deal of pressure in the knee joint, which is weakest in twisting. It is important to release that pressure before straightening the leg, by moving the hips backwards first.
Twisting only the upper body or head towards the straight leg shows that the belly and hips are ‘dead,’ or not involved in the pose. Make sure to move from the very low belly.