Janushirasana is one of my favorite yoga poses, both to perform and to teach. Thanks to its versatility, it is commonly used in various yoga styles, from Ashtanga to Yin. Directly translated from Sanskrit, Janushirshasana (alt. spelling Janu Sirsasana) means Head-to-Knee Pose.
janu – knee
sirsa – head
asana – pose or seat
This asana is an asymmetrical forward bend with a spinal twist. Although this is quite an intense pose, with a few modifications, it can be made accessible to complete beginners.
Benefits of Janushirasana
- Like other forward-bending positions, this asana stretches the whole back of the body. Starting at the back of the heels, the stretch continues via the calves, hamstrings, and glutes. It also thoroughly stretches the spine (including the neck).
- Janushirasana is a great way to decompress the spine at the end of a long day. A happy spine leads to better posture!
- Folding over your leg applies pressure to the abdominal area. Think of it as a gentle massage! This pressure stimulates digestion and improves gastrointestinal function.
- Practicing Janushirasana for an extended period of time has a calming effect on your mind. The act of relaxing your head down and closing your eyes brings focus to the breath, which in turn relieves anxiety and fatigue.
- Start in Staff Pose (Dandasana).
- Bend your right knee and bring the sole of your right foot to the inner left thigh. Allow the right knee to open toward the ground. Keep your right ankle active, with the toes pointing up.
- Take a deep inhale, open the heart forward.
- As you exhale, start folding forward, leading with the center of your chest. Keep breathing as you soften your neck and round your shoulders.
- At this point, if your fold is deep enough, you should be able to rest your forehead on your knee.
- Reach your arms forward and get a hold of your left foot. If your arms reach past your foot, you may bring them into a bind.
- Hold the position for anywhere between a few seconds, and a minute.
- To exit, inhale and lift the torso away from the leg. Return to Staff Pose.
- Repeat on the other side.
Source: VENTUNO YOGA
Traditionally, you would hold your breath when performing Janushirasana. However, that only applies to a situation when you stay in the pose for a few moments. If you hold this pose for an extended amount of time (e.g., in restorative practice), aim for steady, even breaths.
- Hamstring, calf, or lower back injury. Even without the injury, this is quite a difficult stretch. If you have a recent injury that affects your hamstrings, calves, or lower back, it’s best to skip this pose.
- Knee injury. If you have a recent knee injury or are recovering from knee surgery, steer clear of this pose. If you have an old knee injury, you may want to modify the pose to make it more comfortable.
- Spinal injury. If you have a spine injury, such as slipped or herniated discs, bruising, or swelling, avoid practicing this pose.
- Breathing constraints. By design, this forward bend applies pressure to the chest and belly, restricting lung capacity and diaphragm movement. If you suffer from asthma, seasonal allergies, a chest infection, or another condition that restricts your breathing, avoid Janushirasana.
- Diarrhea. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, applying pressure to your stomach is not the best idea. Revisit this pose when you feel better!
Modifications and Props
- If you are experiencing discomfort or pain in the back of your knee, bend it slightly and add a rolled-up towel or blanket underneath for support.
- If the hip of the bent leg feels tense, prop it with a block or a rolled-up blanket.
- If your head doesn’t reach down to meet the knee, you can insert a block or a cushion between them. This modification is also great for supporting the neck in Janushirasana.
- If you cannot reach your foot, you may use a yoga belt or simply rest your palms on either side of the straight leg.
Before you dive into Head-to-Knee Pose, it’s important to make sure your body is ready. Unless you are performing Janushirasana as part of your Ashtanga sequence, you should prepare by including poses with a focus on the spine, hips, and hamstrings.
- Staff Pose – Dandasana
- Bound Angle – Baddha Konasana
- Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana
Ready for a challenge? Try these poses next!
- Head-to-Knee Pose II – Janushirasana II
- Seated Forward Bend – Paschimottanasana
- Half-Bound Lotus Forward Fold – Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Although Head-to-Knee Pose has a relaxing effect, at the moment, it feels pretty intense. To help your muscles recover, practice the following poses after Janushirasana:
- Cat-Cow Sequence – Marjaryasana-Bitilasana
- Reclined Bound Angle – Supta Baddha Konasana
If Janushirasana isn’t a part of your routine, I highly recommend that you include it in your regular practice! Make sure to warm up and listen to your body.