Head to knee pose, otherwise known as seated forward bend, falls under the category of forward folds. As with all forward folds, this pose stretches the hamstrings and aims to make a person more flexible. It’s a gentle and restorative pose that requires no strength and can therefore be held for long periods of time.
Once the edge is found in this pose it can be held to slowly go deeper into the pose. That’s what makes this pose a perfect Yin posture as well. Yin is a form of yoga where there are only around 5 poses used in the whole class and each pose is held for a long time to encourage the body to relax and go deeper into it. Head to knee pose is a perfect example of a relaxing pose.
The basics of head to knee pose
Head to knee pose is known in Sanskrit as Janu Sirsasana and is done one leg at a time. It’s a pose usually used at the beginning or end of a yoga flow to cool down or warm up. It’s usually the pose used to warm up the hamstrings for more flexible poses used later in the sequence. Head to knee pose mainly stretches the hamstrings but it also stretches and lengthens the spine.
This pose can be done in many different ways to make it easier or harder, it’s easily adaptable for any body. Therefore, this pose is a beginner-friendly pose but does require a level of flexibility to get into. There’s no need for extreme flexibility in this pose because that’s what head to knee pose builds on. No matter how far a person goes in this pose, as long as they feel some sensation in the hamstrings, then they receive the benefits of the pose.
The benefits of practicing head to knee pose
The main benefit received from doing this pose is increased flexibility. By continuously stretching the hamstrings a larger range of flexibility will be achieved, which will help people get into advanced poses like splits. The pose also requires a lengthened spine, even though it’s called head to knee pose, it’s not actually the head that’s supposed to touch the knee.
The chest should lean forward towards the toes to keep a lengthened spine and if folding then the head would touch near the shins. This keeps the spine long and lengthened, which strengthens it and helps with spinal health. Doing this pose regularly will help posture and calm the nervous system because it’s such a restorative pose.
How to do head to knee pose
Step by step instructions for getting into the pose
- Begin in a seated position with both hips square and facing forward. Bring the feet out in front of the body so that the legs are straight. Lengthen out of the lower back and straighten the spine, if this is difficult bend the knees a bit to find length.
- Keep a straight spine the entire time as you first bring the right foot in towards the thigh and let the right knee fall out to the side. The left leg can be slightly bent to keep the spine straight.
- Inhale and reach both arms up to the sky and as you exhale, hinge from the hips, maintain a straight spine, and lead with the heart forward. Going only as far as is comfortable for your body, stop once sensation is felt and let your arms rest on the ankles, shins, thighs, or floor next to the leg.
- Make sure you’re not pushing into the floor to hold you up. That means you’ve gone too far and need to back up a bit. Once the hands have a place to rest, slight rounding in the spine can happen, but not a lot.
- Hold here for 5-10 breaths with the chest leaning forward towards the toes and breathing deeply before bringing the legs back to centre and going to the other side.
Common mistakes made when doing head to knee pose
The biggest mistake that people make is that they try to pull themselves deep into the pose so that their head can touch their knee. This isn’t safe and can cause pain as well as rounding in the spine. There’s no need to pull yourself into the pose but rather go as far as the body is comfortable whilst keeping a lengthened spine.
Another thing people do is struggle and try to push the floor away and end up fighting with the floor because they’re so uncomfortable. There’s no need to sit in discomfort, the pose should feel good and restful. Using props and staying higher up receives the same benefits and folding all the way forward, which makes struggling in the pose unnecessary.
Begin slowly folding into the pose, don’t fall forwards. Remember to feel into the body so that you’re not going further than what your body is comfortable with. It can also be useful to use props like pillows or blocks next to the sides of the legs so that there’s something higher up to rest your arms or hands on.
Breathe deeply and relax into the pose, once you relax, you’ll be able to go deeper. If your breathing is constricted, then you won’t be able to give in to the stretch. Slow and long deep breaths whilst listening to how your body reacts is how to approach head to knee pose.
If someone is experiencing any kind of knee, thigh, spine, or hip pain then they should avoid this pose. Similarly, if someone has an injury in any of those areas then they shouldn’t do head to knee pose. Always consult a doctor or physician before taking part in any kind of movement.
A similar variation of this pose, which is neither harder nor easier, is called Paschimottanasana, which is a full seated forward fold. This version has both legs out in front and straight while folding forward. To make this version and head to knee pose easier, a variation with blocks on the side for the arms to rest on would make it a lot more approachable. Using a strap over the feet and bending the knees can also help make this pose easier.References: