Pose of the Month: Parvritta Janu Sirsasana


What defines you? How do we limit ourselves to a definition of the way things should be, or judgments of the way things are? We find so often that our mat is a mirror, a place to reflect how we experience the practice of living. Asana is a great tool of discovery and reflection. When we are pushed to the edge of what is comfortable in our bodies, we have a human tendency to define our experience. Good or bad, hard or easy, intense or gentle, these dichotomies by definition limit us. In yoga, we seek to move beyond definition to a place where we can experience the good and the bad, the difficult and the easeful simultaneously. After all, yoga essentially means “union,” right? In Pavritta Janu Sirsasana (revolved head to knee pose), we stretch ourselves to the limit of how we define ourselves physically. At the same time, we work to maintain a powerful connection to our root and core. As we practice this pose, we often find that the limits we had placed on ourselves dissolve, and we are able to move beyond physical and mental definitions.

Pavritta Janu Sirsasana begins in a space of total groundedness. Our sitting bones root to the earth and our core lifts us in strength and surety. As we extend our bodies into a new space, it is easy to forget about the roots and the strength that was our beginning. We often move so quickly into defining this place as an extreme stretch, that we forget what originated this moment. So, in this pose, we find a way to experience the dichotomy of strength and of stretching to our limits all at once. If we take the time to observe our tendencies, as we begin in Pavritta Janu Sirsasana, we may discover that we define these dichotomies often in our lives, feeling that we must be either strong or flexible, but rarely both. Thus, by mere definition limit our experience.

Reaching Pavritta Janu Sirsasana requires a good deal of preparation. Spaces of lateral flexion, core strength engagement and pelvic stabilization build to the creation of an asana whose defining moments both encompass and exceed all of the preparation. There is a point in the intense lateral flexion where we question where we are going and how we are going to get there, but, if we keep reaching, keep stretching beyond our perceived limitations, we may find a freedom that is both defined and beyond definition.

When we open our bodies in any way, we open to the infinite potential of our deepest Self. Often a revolved pose such as this, moves the eyes of the heart more deeply inward, but revolved head to knee pose trusts our core and our roots so much that it allows us to open our hearts to the world. As we extend our side bodies and revolve our hearts upward, we move from an individual to a universal definition of Self. At its conclusion, we can feel that Pavritta Janu Sirsasana has left us with an immense feeling of space and freedom of which we may have been previously unaware. We have, for a moment, moved beyond the limited definition of our individual self and into a space of infinite awareness.

Just like any experience on or off our mats, it can be frightening to move beyond the definitions we have created for ourselves. The habitual way we label and define our experiences is so much a part of us that it is almost second nature. But, with consistent practice and patience, we can feel the boundlessness that comes from stretching our limits. We can begin to redefine our old expectations and create new definitions to stretch beyond. It is part of our nature as humans to define our experiences, but it is also part of our spiritual nature to recognize the ways this limits us. So we work with this interplay of our humanness and our spirit, constantly dismantling and rebuilding our definitions to be more in align with who we really are. Coming to your mat with this intention can make the practice of Pavritta Janu Sirsasana an infinitely expansive experience.

Kelly Golden

In regular life, we do not typically move into straight sidebending motions, as in Pavritta Janu Sirsasana. Therefore, this posture moves our bodies in a way that is not something we experience everyday. Pavritta Janu Sirsasana helps to bring greater mobility into the spine and rib cage. This mobility leads to greater expansion of the lungs for fuller breathing capacity and therefore can impact our nervous and endocrine systems.

By stretching the sides of the body, this posture brings length to many muscles that are on the outside of our trunk. The Latissimus Dorsi, which originates on the pelvis and attaches to the shoulder, is elongated which can impact how we move from our pelvis to our spine to our shoulders. Latissimus Dorsi tightness contributes to rounded shoulders and shoulder/back dysfunction so this posture can be helpful for some instances of back and shoulder pain. The Quadratus Lumborum, which originates on the pelvis and attaches to the ribs and lower Thoracic/upper Lumbar vertebrae, is also elongated. The Quadratus Lumborum is often contracted and tight when experiencing low back pain, and therefore this posture can be helpful in some cases of low back pain. The long back muscles, the Erector Spinae, which originate at the sacrum and attach all along way up to the neck are also stretched. All of this brings more space into the spine, one side at a time so that you can work on each side individually versus working both sides simultaneously as in a forward bend such as Paschimottanasana or Janu Sirsasana. Bringing more space into the spine will help to decrease any compressive issues in the back.

Typically this posture is done with the leg out at an angle from the body so that as you bend over the outstretched leg your torso is sidebending towards that side versus flexing forward over the outstretched leg as in Janu Sirsasana. As you come into this posture, there is an opposite direction rotation, so the chest can stay open and your body stays in one plane of motion. Biomechanically this is a natural movement of the vertebrae, sidebending one direction and rotation the opposite direction. As you lift your arm overhead and bind the foot of the outstretched leg you bring the stretch into the Latissimus Dorsi of the side you are moving away from. Typically, as stated above, the outstretched leg is at a wide angle away from the body, bringing the stretch into the Adductors. However, some traditions will do this posture with the leg straightforward, as in Janu Sirsasana. When the pose is done in this way, the stretch is more in the Hamstrings and there is more rotation motion than sidebending motion. This causes the stretch in the torso to be greater in the Obliques than in the Quadratus Lumborum.

Marlysa Sullivan

Copyright, reprinted with permission.

The Safety Net of Paradox

Ok, yogi friends.  This practice is no joke.  It's a game changer, a life shifter, an "I'll never be the same again-er."  A while back  I was sitting around with a bunch of Teacher Training graduates and a few other guest teachers at a mountain retreat, and we were talking about the power of this practice of Yoga.  Afterwards, one of the guest teachers pulled me aside and said, "your training should be called the quit your job and change your life Teacher Training."  Whoa.  I took pause.

Is that how I want to be known?  We live in a world where definitions rule.  When asked, "who are you?" most of us immediately answer with a long list of defining actions or achievements that really don't reflect the truth of who YOU are.  We lose ourselves in definition, and when we aren't able to define ourselves in the world we feel lost.  So some of us become seekers, defying definition and forging our own path.  We work hard to be unconventional, original, authentic to our heart's call.  And then somebody defines us.

It causes us to take pause.  When our work to expand beyond definitions and inspire others to do the same becomes the very definition of who we are.  What a paradox.  There is a teaching in one of the ancient texts of tradition that I study that says over and over in a hundred different ways that the world is this AND that.  Both extremes existing at once as ONE.  It implores us that if anything can truly be classified in an absolute and singular way that as spiritual aspirants, we must question it. 

The understanding of the paradox of reality is our pathway to freedom, a glimpse through the window to the vista of non-duality.  We become tangled in our definitions of things, and in trying to escape our mess, we define ourselves.  Yet when we realize we are at once the absence and the presence of these definitions, we are free. 

One of my teachers once gave the analogy of a spider, she spins the web to create her world, yet the web that she is spinning comes from inside of her, her own creation.  She is the container of the entire world, and the spinner of her own story in which she dances the dance of life.  So in owning our definitions as doorway to the infinite, we unwind the thread within.  

We will probably always be at the mercy of a definition; I'm a mom, a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a yogini, a student, a brunette, a talker, and maybe also a director of a "quit your job and change your life Teacher Training."  But now, these definitions of Self are the web in which I dance rather than the sticky, tangled trap that holds me down.  I am that, AND I am also the undefinable, undeniable greatness of being, and so are you.