In Sanskrit, the word janu means ‘knee’ and sirsha means ‘head’. Therefore, janusirshasana can be translated as the ‘head to knee pose’. Sometimes it is also called ardha paschimottanasana – the ‘half lotus back stretching pose’ because of its resemblance to paschimottan asana.
Sit on the floor with both legs stretched out in front of the body. Bend the left leg and place the sole of the foot against the inside surface of the right thigh. Adjust the left foot so that the heel presses as near as possible to the region of the perineum (between the sexual organ and anus). The bent left knee should be in contact with the ground. Hold the spine straight. Place both hands on the right thigh. Relax the back muscles. This is the starting position.
Throughout this stage and the following stages, the right leg should not be bent: that is, the right knee should not be raised. Breathe in deeply. Then breathe out while slowly leaning forwards and simultaneously sliding the hands along the top of the right leg stretching towards the right foot. The aim is to bend forwards as far as comfortable; this will depend on the flexibility of your back. You should adopt any one of the following positions depending on your capacity:
- If your back is very stiff, then you will only be able to touch the top of your calf. Grasp your leg at this point.
- If your back is more flexible, then you will be able to grasp your right ankle.
- If your back muscles are very supple, then you should be able to grasp the back of your right heel or toes. For the purposes of the asana, we prefer that you hold your toes as follows: grasp the big toe of the right foot with the index (second) and middle fingers, and the thumb of the left hand; the right hand should grasp the right foot just below the toes. If this is uncomfortable then you can grasp the back of the right heel with both hands.
Don’t strain under any circumstances; only bend forwards as far as the flexibility of your back will comfortably allow. At the end of the forward bend, try to touch the forehead on the right knee (only people who can do position 3 above will be able to do this). Then relax the whole body, especially the back.
Breathe normally a few times and then proceed to stage 3.
Keep the right leg straight throughout this stage.
Breathe in deeply.
Then while breathing out, gently but firmly pull your head further towards the right foot
by using the arms. Those people who cannot touch the right knee with their head should look directly at the right foot; while those who can touch the forehead to the right knee should merely pull their head towards the foot keeping their forehead or chin in contact with the leg. Don’t strain.
Try to let the back muscles relax totally, letting the pull come only from the arms. The forward movement does not need to be great. At the end of the forward pull, remain in a stationary position and breathe in deeply. During the next exhalation try to pull the head a little further forwards and again maintain a static position while inhaling.
Repeat 3 or 4 times.
In all cases, the arms have to be bent; in the case of people who can touch their head on the right knee, the elbows should be bent downwards so that they touch the floor on both sides of the right leg.
The final position for those people with a flexible spine is as shown. Other people, through daily practice, will be able to attain this final pose in the future when they loosen up their spine. Breathe slowly and deeply in the final pose. Stay in the final pose for a minute or so. Then breathe in, while raising the head and trunk to the starting position. Repeat the same stages 1, 2 and 3 with the right leg bent and the left leg straight.