In several of my books such as Yoga Meditation, I have written about the importance of having a good-quality meditation posture such as Padmasana, Siddhasana or similar. If you cannot sit comfortably chances are that discomfort will stop you from going deeper into spiritual insight. The key to most meditation postures is to be able to rotate the thighbones internally enough so that the knees are protected and the pelvis is sufficiently tilted anteriorly to keep the low-back lordotic, thus preventing low-back pain.
However, once we are in these meditation postures its hard to learn and apply internal rotation. The most important posture to induce internal rotation is Janushirshasana A and related postures.
In this part of the Primary Series we find an interesting rotation pattern:
From the sitting half-lotus onwards the rotation pattern of the femur for the Primary Series is established. Sown here, this seed can eventually fructify in the performance of such complex postures as Mulabandhasana (the most extreme medial rotation) and Kandasana (the most extreme lateral rotation). The rotation pattern is as follows:
_ Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana – medial rotation
_ Triang Mukha Ekapada Pashimottanasana – lateral rotation
_ Janushirshasana A – medial rotation
_ Janushirshasana B – lateral rotation
_ Janushirshasana C – medial rotation
These femur rotations refer to the action performed after one has arrived in the posture. To get into the posture the action is the opposite. When the rotation pattern is performed in this way, the more challenging postures in the series, such as Marichyasana D and Baddha Konasana, become easily accessible.
But let’s now go to Janushirshasana A, the easiest of these postures in which the internal rotation is the most readily available. The important thing about Janushirshasana A is that it contains the key to Baddhakonasana.
Janushirshasana A (Head-Beyond-the-Knee Posture)
Janushirshasana A, like no other posture, combines the two main themes of the Primary Series – forward bending and hip rotation. Pashimottanasana and Baddha Konasana are the cardinal postures of these two actions. Janushirshasana A is in fact identical to performing Pashimottanasana on one leg and Baddha Konasana with the other. There may be more exhilarating postures in the sequence, but it is Janushirshasana A that most lets us experience the underlying principles of the first series.
Inhaling, jump through to Dandasana. Bend the knee and take the right thigh back, working towards creating a 90º angle between the thighbones. This action, called abduction, hip flexion and lateral rotation of the femur, is primarily performed by the sartorius muscle. Point and invert the right foot, as this aids subsequent medial rotation of the femur. Draw the right heel into the right groin, thus completely sealing the knee joint. Ideally the right heel would touch the right groin, but beginners may take some time to cultivate the necessary length in the quadriceps. This length needs to be gained in the previous posture, Triang Mukha Ekapada Pashimottanasana. We can now move the entire folded leg as a unity, minimising friction in the knee joint.
As you reach forward to take the left foot, the right thigh begins its countermovement, rolling forward (medial rotation). If possible, the left hand binds the right wrist. Inhaling, lift your heart and square your shoulders to the left foot. Lift through the entire front of the body while the shoulder blades flow down the back and the sit bones ground down.
Exhaling, fold forward squarely over the inseam of the straight leg. The left leg and the torso follow the instructions for Pashimottanasana. The right foot points and inverts. The thigh rolls forward (rotates medially) and reaches back until a state of equilibrium is achieved. Every movement needs to contain its countermovement. In the present case the inward rotation of the thigh is terminated by a corresponding outward rotation, when the neutral state is reached. To prevent the excessive performance of a movement, receptivity is necessary to recognise the neutral state. Work for five breaths in the posture
Pointing the foot while executing Janushirshasana A allows the tibia to track the medial rotation of the femur until its front edge (it is a triangular bone) points down to the earth and the heel up to the sky. This fundamental movement can be applied in all lotus postures. It will lead to sitting in lotus posture with the heels and the soles of the feet facing upward, as in depictions of the Buddha. This is the anatomically correct position. The position adopted by many westerners, in which the heels and soles face towards the abdomen, places undue strain on the knee joints.
To invert the foot at the same time as pointing it deepens the medial spiralling of the thigh, thereby deepening the lotus position. Combining these actions, create a vector of energy out from the groin. This counteracts the tendency for beginners to suck the thigh back into the hip, which shortens the adductors and creates an obstacle to opening the hips. All hip rotations require that the adductors are released and lengthened.
Lengthening along the insides of the thighs in Janushirshasana A loosens the adductors and reduces pressure on the knee. The knee gently draws down and back (abduction of the femur), increasing the length of the adductors.
Habitually short adductors (see figure 17) are observed in many westerners. Our culture trains us to govern and to subdue nature; we place ourselves above nature. This is reflected in our habit of sitting on chairs – above the earth and removed from it. Asians and those of many other civilisations sat on the ground. This corresponded to a view in which man is a part of nature and not its lord. And sitting on the ground leaves the hip joints open.
Both shoulders are kept at an even distance from the floor.
Janushirshasana A beautifully lengthens the quadratus lumborum, a small back extensor muscle in the low back. Lengthen the low back, attempting to square the whole of the chest to the straight leg. Keep the back of the neck long. Jutting the chin forward in an ambitious attempt to touch it to the shin impairs the blood and nerve supplies to the brain, and the contracted neck muscles have the strength to subluxate cervical vertebrae. This action cultivates an aggressive go-getter attitude, and a decrease of compassion.
It often helps if the teacher places a finger on a particular vertebra and encourages the student to lift it upwards, C7 being one vertebra frequently in need of support. Students who have a tendency to whiplash or who carry a whiplash pattern should maintain a straight line from the spine along the neck and across the back of the head. Do not look up to the foot until your neck is cured. Hold Janushirshasana A for five breaths.
Inhaling, hold onto the foot, lift the torso and straighten the arms. Exhaling, place the hands down, ready to lift up.
Vinyasa ten Inhaling, lift up.
Vinyasa eleven Exhale, Chaturanga Dandasana.
Vinyasa twelve Inhale into Upward Dog.
Vinyasa thirteen Exhale into Downward Dog.
Vinyasas fourteen to twenty
Repeat the posture on the left.
Passages quoted from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy
- Leg-behind-head postures: importance and warm-ups - June 24, 2017
- Rotation pattern of the Primary Series - May 26, 2017
- Kapotasana - April 15, 2017
- Getting the most out of Baddha Konasana - March 18, 2017
- Save Your Neck – Taking Your Head Back - March 3, 2017
- Janushirshasana the Key to Lotus and Baddhakonasana - February 18, 2017
- Back Bending (Urdhva Dhanurasana) - January 7, 2017
- Learning from Indigenous Nations and victory for the Sioux at Standing Rock (at least for now) - December 9, 2016
- Yoga of Hatred versus Yoga of Love - November 11, 2016
- Extending your Inversions: Guidelines - October 15, 2016