As part of the opening Half Moon Sequence the primary purpose of this posture is to warm up the spine. It also stretches and warms up the legs in preparation for all of the ensuing standing postures.
We come into those pose immediately following Half Moon Backbend so the starting position is with the arms overhead. The traditional method for coming forward, with a flat back, locked knees and arms glued to the ears, is only advisable for people with plenty of strength and flexibility. You may try this technique but the minute you feel any kind of back strain, stop! For most people, especially beginners, how your come down is not important– as long as you come down safely.
You can even lower the arms and use them to walk your hands down the front of your legs to get into the pose.
- improves brain circulation
- promotes blood flow to ear, nose throat
- increases spinal flexion
- stretches the hamstrings while strengthening the thighs
- builds abdominal wall strength
Alignment & Technique
Keep the feet and knees together. Bending the knees as much as necessary, place the stomach against the thighs and try to bring the chest against the knees. The ideal is to not have any gap between the body and legs but not everybody will be able to achieve this at first (see Modifications below).
Reach around behind the legs, lift the heels and slip five fingers under each heel, palms up. You literally are trying to step on your fingers while simultaneously pulling the elbows towards each other behind your legs. With this grip you then pull on the feet to deepen the stretching of the backs of the legs and the back but be careful! Pull gently at first and only increase as it feels safe to do so.
Keep your abdomen sucked in (Uddiyana Bandha) and try to contract your quadriceps in order to straighten the legs as much as possible without letting the legs pull away from the body (no gap). Relax your head and neck. Lift your shoulders away from the floor/ears.
Bend your knees as much as necessary on the way down and the way up. You can even use your arms for support and use your hands to walk yourself down the front of the legs.
In class we warm up for this posture after coming forward by bending the knees alternately, right and left for a few seconds. Take as much time with this warm up as you need.
When pulling against the feet try using more core muscles than arm muscles. Use the pressure of the chest against the knees to help straighten the legs. If a gap starts forming between the body and legs, stop pulling.
Some people may require some space between the feet for this pose, which is fine. It depends on the shape of your legs and abdomen so experiment to find your correct distance. Feet apart will also help with balance.
If you can’t reach low enough to place your fingers under your heels you may simply grab the back of the ankles or calves. If you’re super tight in the hamstrings, or if you find it difficult to get the stomach on the thighs and chest on the knees, you may even grab opposite elbows behind your knees to hug your body against the legs. No matter where your hands are keep your weight forward, on your toes.
Straight Leg Version
This method can be used by anyone for whom the knees to chest is impossible or very uncomfortable. Keep the legs straight and simply roll the body forward with a relaxed, round spine. Support yourself with your hands on your thighs, knees or shins. Keep the quads contracted to deepen the hamstring stretch and let gravity do the work of stretching the spine/back towards the floor.
- abdominal obesity
- stress related back pain