Why Adjust Janu Sirsasana A?
Janu sirsasana A is a common posture in many styles of yoga practice and I would consider it a foundational posture for working on external hip rotation. Access to external hip rotation is what we’ll need if we want to eventually work towards half lotus and then potentially full lotus (discussed more fully in Functional Anatomy of Yoga). Janu sirsasana A can offer students a sense of where they’re at with respect to openness of the hips and external hip rotation in particular, without going too deeply. Adjusting janu sirsasana A can help students feel the direction that their body may need to open to work towards a posture like half lotus.
As with any good adjustment, start with observation. What do you see and why do you want to adjust janu sirsasana A?
We can use what we know about anatomy to direct our process of observing before we adjust janu sirsasana A. Anatomically, janu sirsasana A is composed of external hip rotation in one hip and forward bending at both hip joints. So, we might want to take a look at some of the following before we adjust janu sirsasana A:
- How open are the student’s hips in terms of abduction and external rotation?
- How is their half lotus if they are doing it? Is that something they do easily or something that has been more of a struggle for them?
- How open are their hamstrings and adductors?
- Do they forward bend easily?
- What is their history with their knees? Do they have any past or current knee issues?
Intention and technique
While it’s easy to stay focused on the forward bending aspect of this pose, because tight hamstrings can definitely grab our attention, I consider the primary intention in this pose to be about the external rotation of the hip and the leg that has the bent knee. Secondarily, janu sirsasana A is also an opportunity to lengthen, not just the hamstrings, but also the rest of the back and side of the body. So, the first place I’ll likely take a look at if I am going to adjust janu sirsasana A is the student’s hips.
What are we adjusting and why?
Before we get too far into discussing adjusting janu sirsasana A, we should talk about technique for janu sirsasana A. Students often ask: How far out should the knee point on the bent leg? The answer is, it depends on the situation. If the student has hips that are on the tighter side, or pain/pressure in their knee, I’d suggest having them bring that knee closer to the front. If their hips are pretty open, then it could be okay to let that knee come out to the side farther.
We do also want to pay attention to how far we let that knee come out, however. If our right leg is bent, then our intention is to work with that right hip. As the knee moves further out and back, it can happen from two different places. One place is the right hip joint itself, which I generally try to encourage. But, it’s also possible to move at the left hip in order to bring that right knee further back and out. If this happens, your visual cue would be that the pelvis is not square. This way of doing the pose is not wrong, but it is going to change how pressure goes into the right hip. I tend to have students work with the pelvis more square to the front of the mat so that we can focus on working the hip of the bent leg.
Likewise, students also ask about the foot of the bent leg. Where does the foot go? Should the heel be all the way up to the pubic bone or is bringing it out a little okay? As with the angle of the hip, where we put the foot depends on the person doing the pose. If the student has tighter hips or pain/pressure in the knee, then taking the foot out a little farther from the pubic bone can alleviate some pressure in the knee. If the student has open hips and no knee issues, then it might be just fine to bring the heel of the foot all the way in to the pubic bone.
Like other postures, I see stages in how students work janu sirsasana A. In the first stage of the posture, if the student’s hips are on the tight side, then their foot on the bent leg side may not be all the way against their pubic bone and/or their knee on that side may be floating up some way off the ground. The first thing I want to help the student find is some grounding, so I might just tuck either my foot or a block underneath that knee if it’s floating far off the ground. Typically the knee is up due to tight adductors. Adding the support under the leg helps avoid putting too much pressure into them while adjusting.
My next intention might be lengthening the tissues that need to open for external rotation. Remember that it is often those deep six lateral rotators, the lateral gluteals (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus), as well as the adductors, that restrict external rotation in the hip if they are tight. One way to add some length to these muscles is to use your hand to put some pressure down on the upper leg and hip, while also rotating the thigh and hip back and down.
I might also want to add some direction to the forward bending aspect of this pose. I can use my hands or my shins to send the student forward and encourage length in their forward bend. I can even deepen both aspects of this posture at the same time by using one hand to encourage external rotation of the hip on the bent knee side and the other hand to encourage forward bending of the torso.
If the student is a longer-term practitioner and their hips are pretty open, I may just focus on creating grounding for them to work out of. If I also wanted to focus on deepening the posture, my intentions would still be to continue to open the hip of the bent leg and deepen the forward bend. I could even use the same adjustment as I might on someone who is tighter, but I would change the amount of pressure and depth to be appropriate for the student I am working with.
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