Janu Sirsasana: The Head-to-Knee Pose and Its Benefits

Janu Sirsasana is a classic hatha yoga asana known as the head-to-knee pose. Its action improves the flexibility of the hamstrings and lower back. As you gently bend forward, the stretch extends from the hip joint to the toes, releasing deep tension and creating a sense of calm.

Here, you’ll learn step-by-step how to correctly perform this ancient posture and the health benefits it can bring.

What Is Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose)?

Janu Sirsasana means head-to-knee pose (Janu = knee / Sirsa = head / Asana = posture) and is a popular hatha yoga exercise.

As the name suggests, it is a seated forward bend in which the head or upper body pulls towards the knee to achieve a comfortable stretch at the back of the leg and along the entire length of the back.

The posture contributes to stretching and flexibility, especially of the hip joints, relieves pressure on the lower back, and regulates the nervous system. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, so the posture has a stress-reducing effect and gives inner peace.

Energetically, the posture helps in letting go of spent energy or thoughts. It helps practice devotion and patience wonderfully. In addition, it has a grounding effect and activates the root chakra (Muladhara), which is responsible for our essential trust and sense of security.

In addition, the head-to-knee pose helps you to put the ego aside for a moment and accept yourself and your body, no matter how far you get in the pose. You can’t get into the posture “by force” but must surrender with patience and acceptance to get deeper into the position.

Is Janu Sirsasana Suitable for Beginners?

Yes, the head-to-knee pose suits beginners and advanced practitioners. Even without previous yoga experience, you can perform the posture well.

Which Yoga Classes Practice the Head-to-Knee Pose?

The head-to-knee pose is one of the main postures in hatha yoga and is usually integrated at the end of the class.

In yin yoga classes, Janu Sirsasana is also a popular exercise but practiced with less effort and more by relaxing the muscles. The pose is also practiced in hormone yoga for menopausal symptoms.

Follow-Up Poses

Gentle backbends, such as the fish, the inverted plank, the shoulder bridge, or simply the hero’s seat, are suitable follow-up postures as compensation, in which the spine is brought back into a neutral position.

The head-to-knee pose is often practiced at the end of a yoga class, followed by a relaxed supine position (Shavasana).

What Are the Benefits of Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose)?

Janu Sirsasana improves posture, counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting, relieves back strain, and is excellent for muscle recovery after exercise.

It aids digestion and acts like a gentle massage on the stomach, intestines, and abdominal organs.

Its health benefits help reduce stress and depression and find inner peace.

In addition to improving physical fitness, the following studies show a positive impact of the head-to-knee pose on people suffering from gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases.

1. Performance

A 12-week hatha yoga program that included a head-to-knee pose could strengthen participants measurably.

Through yoga, participants increased their performance in pull-ups, push-ups, and tests that included the lower back and posterior thigh muscles.

Women, but not men, could also improve their resting heart rate

(Lau et al. 2015).

2. Balance

In a recent study, a 16-week yoga practice that included Janu Sirsasana improved balance and flexibility in female college students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers, therefore, concluded that yoga could be used as a primary form of home exercise for female college students (Luo et al. 2023).

Specifically, the head-to-knee forward bend stretches the back extensor, calf, back of the thighs, and gluteal muscles. It strengthens the hip flexor, straight thigh, biceps, and upper arm muscles.

3. Gastritis

Gastritis is a disease that causes deterioration and inflammation of the stomach lining.

Researchers have demonstrated the positive effect of yoga therapy, including Janu Sirsasana, on gastritis. They showed that Janu Sirsasana can improve gastritis symptoms by lowering stress and a pro-inflammatory enzyme called heparinase (Beeram et al. 2020).

4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a complex disorder characterized by abdominal pain and abnormal bowel function.

Researchers showed that the head-to-knee pose could reduce the intensity of IBS symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and stress and improve sleep quality (Evans et al. 2014).

5. Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a harbinger of type 2 diabetes and is composed of the following health risks (Huang et al. 2009):

  • High blood glucose (due to insulin resistance)
  • High blood fat levels (triglycerides)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Low HDL levels (high-density lipoprotein, “good cholesterol”)
  • Obesity (adiposis)

A recent study examined the effect of a 12-week hatha yoga program that included Janu Sirsasana on people suffering from metabolic syndrome.

The yoga group significantly decreased waist circumference, blood sugar, and triglycerides (Lau et al. 2015).

6. Diabetes

Breathing (Pranayama) and yoga postures (Asanas), such as Janu Sirsasana, can positively affect people with diabetes.

Researchers showed that the exercises improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar levels (Khedikar et al. 2018).

7. Cancer

Lymphedema is a common complication that occurs with breast cancer treatment. Swelling of the arms and fatigue are its primary symptoms.

Researchers showed that yoga, including head-to-knee pose, can be effective against it. In addition, yoga therapy reduces pain, depression, and fatigue in breast cancer patients.

Thus, yoga could also improve the quality of life and mood (Saraswathi et al. 2021).

8. Organs

The practice of Janu Sirsasana can promote digestion and stimulate the liver and kidneys so that these organs work better (Khedikar et al. 2018).

How to Do Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)

janu shirshasana
  1. Start in Dandasana (stick pose): sit upright with your back straight on the mat, and your legs extended straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and place the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh.
  2. Inhale and pull your hands up shoulder-width apart as you lengthen your spine.
  3. Exhale and bend forward from the hips over the extended leg. Grasp the foot of your extended leg, its ankle, or lower leg with your hands.
  4. If you want to work dynamically in the posture, lift your sternum with the next inhalation and lower your torso with the exhalation.
  5. Breathe long and evenly and hold the position for 4-8 breaths.
  6. To come out of the posture, tighten your abdominal muscles, inhale slowly, and deliberately raise your upper body. Extend your bent leg forward again.
  7. Repeat the exercise on the other side.

Common Mistakes

  • Be careful not to pull yourself forward with all your strength, but only as far as your body will allow. It is best to gently and mindfully bend forward from the hips.
  • Bend forward only enough to keep your back straight.
  • You should not do the pose if you have lower back pain or problems, herniated discs or sciatica problems.
  • It would be best if you also were careful with your knee joint. If you feel pressure or pain in your bent knee, bring your foot down further on your inner thigh. With the leg extended, you can bend the knee slightly or place a blanket underneath to protect it.

Expert Tips to Improve

  • Push the extended leg into the floor. Knee and toes point straight up.
  • Keep the lower back as flat as possible, and be careful not to round it.
  • Try to let yourself sink further forward from the hips with each exhalation.
  • Pull the elbows slightly apart in the posture to widen the chest.
  • You don’t need to be able to bring your head to your knee, just in that direction. The more often you practice the exercise, the easier it will become.

Variations and Modifications

  • You can sit on a folded blanket or pillow to bend forward from the hips more easily.
  • If you have a shortened back of the leg, you can slightly bend your leg or place a blanket under it.
  • To keep your spine long, place a band or yoga strap around your foot while gently pulling yourself forward with it.
  • A popular variation is Parivritta Janu Sirsasana, the twisted head-knee pose. In this, you reach your left hand to your right bent knee, bend your torso sideways over your extended leg, and pull your right arm overhead toward your toes, opening and stretching your entire right flank.
Parivritta Janu Sirsasana - twisted head-to-knee pose

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What muscles do the head-to-knee pose work?

In particular, the back extensor, calf muscles, back of the thighs, and gluteus maximus are stretched. The hip flexor, straight thigh muscle, and biceps are strengthened.

What is Janu Sirsasana good for?

Janu Sirsasana helps improve posture, stretches the back of the body, including the back muscles, and contributes to muscle recovery after exercise. It aids digestion, calms the mind, and helps reduce stress.

What is the difference between Janu Sirsasana and Paschimottanasana?

Both yoga poses involve a seated forward bend. However, in Janu Sirsana, you bend over only one extended leg, while in Paschimottanasana, you bend over both.

How does one feel after performing Janu Sirsasana?

After the pose, you feel physically more flexible, calmer, and emotionally balanced.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.

Click on the links above to visit his author and about me pages.

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