Standing Head-to-Knee pose, also known as Dandayamana Janushirasana, is a full body strengthener that challenges your balance and focus. Although the pose sounds simple, it demands flexibility in the hips, upper back and hamstrings, exceptional balance, and practice and patience to execute properly.
Standing Head-to-Knee Pose offers a variety of benefits for the body and mind. While the pose most obviously stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, the triceps and biceps of the upper arm, trapezius and deltoids of the shoulders, and the lateral and upper back muscles are also strengthened.
Balancing in the pose requires activation in multiple muscle groups, including the abdominal muscles, and helps develop focus and concentration. And the forward bend of the pose is beneficial to your digestive and reproductive organs, compressing them gently. Building up to the pose to access it and its benefits safely takes time and patience.
Standing Head-to-Knee pose is an advanced posture that requires appropriate warm up and preparation. Build up to it by warming the body wit your preferred Sun Salutations prepare the body and mind with these poses.
Downward Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana is common in yoga warm-ups, and for good reason. The pose stretches your hamstrings, shoulders, upper back and hips-all areas of the body that are utilized in Standing Head-to-Knee pose.
Seated Head-to-Knee Pose
Janusirsasana or Head-to-Knee pose mirrors the movement of Standing Head-to-Knee pose, stretching the upper back, hamstrings, and challenging you to reach your hands to the floor and forehead to shin. Mastering this seated posture will help you build strength and flexibility before adding in the standing version.
Garudasana prepares you mentally and physically for Standing Head-to-Knee pose by cultivating concentration, balance and stretching the upper back and hips. Learn how to do it here.
Vrksasana is a great way to build balance and create a calm focus to Standing Head-to-Knee pose. Find your stability here first, and use this balance to enter the pose.
Getting into the Pose
Breaking the pose down into steps helps your build the pose and maintains your focus on proper alignment in the pose. Take it one step at a time with the following tips.
Step One: Balance It
Once you are warmed up, come to Mountain pose and bring one knee up.
Stabilize through the balancing leg, and place the hands around the elevated foot, creating a cradle by interlacing the fingers.
Step Two: Extend It
Press out through the foot, extending the leg and pulling slightly back with the hands to create a stable tension. Bend the elbows and bring them to either side of the leg, preferably below the calf muscle.
If that’s not yet accessible to you, feel free to use a strap and place it across the arch of the foot (pictured below) to help you straighten your leg and work on your balance.
Step Three: Tuck It
Tuck your chin and begin to come forward, bringing the forehead toward the knee.
Step 4: Hold It
Keep the leg extended and balancing leg straight, activating the thighs and abdominal muscles.
Tips to Build Up to the Pose
Use a Strap
All bodies are different, and it may be hard for your hands to reach your feet, or to find the extension to straighten the knee. Use a strap as an extension of the arms and wrap it around the bottom of the feet (see above). Note what it feels like to straighten the leg, and find balance using a strap for an extension.
Stabilize the Knees
You may hear that you need to “lock” the knees in this pose. Locking knees to the point of hyperextension causes damage over time, and instead it is important to keep the kneecap centered and stable by activating the quadriceps and hamstrings, and keeping the kneecap in alignment with the hip and ankle.
Don’t Let the Hamstrings Get All of the Attention
The powerful stretch of the hamstrings can easily dominate the focus in this pose. Do a body scan to check the following:
abdominals are engaged
thighs are activated
kneecaps lifted, and that...
you are pressing through the ball of the balancing foot and the toes on the extended foot are flexed.
Use the Gaze to Stabilize and Challenge
Finding your drishti (focus) by gazing down at the leg or slightly forward are good options to get your balance. Take it a step further by closing the eyes.
Standing Head-to-Knee pose takes time and patience to build up to. In order to access the pose safely, it is imperative that you warm up the body and pay particular attention to flexibility in the hamstrings, shoulders and upper back.
Remember: this is all practice. Have some fun! Listen to your body, respect your limits, and move one step at a time.
Image credit: Gordon Ogden