Mistakes to avoid

This asana gives many benefits if it is done correctly. Make sure you avoid the following common mistakes:

• Bending the knee of the straight leg upwards during the practice. If you do this then the asana becomes very easy; so easy that even a person with the stiffest back will be able to touch his head to his knee. But the benefits will be almost nil. Keep the leg straight so that the muscles at the rear of the legs (hamstring muscles) and the spinal muscles are stretched and become flexible through practice.

• Using the back muscles to bend the body forward. This defeats the purpose of the asana, for the contraction of the back muscles implies that the back is tensed, which prevents the fullest possible forward bend. Try to relax the spinal muscles throughout the entire practice. Let them be passively stretched. In this manner the spinal muscles will become progressively elongated and the vertebrae loosened.

• Excessive strain which can cause injury. Be careful not to apply force to the back when bending forwards. Apply a little tension by pulling on the arms, but not too much. You people who can touch their head on the right kn<must use your discretion in this respect. the elbows should be bent downwaodhejct hiataiey touch the floor on both sides ofthe right leg.- -it u- m-

Janu sirshasana is similar to paschimottan-

The final position for those people with a asana. .As such, details on awareness, sequence, flexible spine is as shown. duration, limitations and benefits are all the

Other people, through daily practice, will be same1.

Leg loosening

The greatest advantage ofjanu sirshasana over paschimottanasana is that it simultaneously loosens the legs in preparation for meditative asanas. It gives basically the same benefits plus this extra one. This is the reason that we have introduced it at this stage. Earlier in the book we emphasized the importance of loosening up the legs for meditative asanas and kriya yoga2. We described a number of specific leg loosening exercises to be practised every day. Because of lack of time you have probably not practised them. If this is the case then you should definitely include janu sirshasana (or ardha paschimottanasana) in your daily practice program. In this way you will loosen up the legs and the back, as well as obtain the benefits associated with forward bending asanas. If necessary you can replace paschim-ottanasana with either of the two asanas described in this topic.

Advanced practices from the final pose In the description we gave of paschimottan-asana we explained two advanced practices. These can also be integrated with janu sirshasana (and ardha padma paschimottanasana). These two refinements will intensify the benefits that can be obtained.

ARDHA PADMA PASCHIMOTTANASANA (HALF LOTUS BACK STRETCHING POSE)

In Sanskrit ardha means 'half, padma means 'lotus', paschima means 'back' and at tan means 'to stretch'. Therefore, ardha padma paschim-ottanasana can be translated as the 'half lotus back stretching pose'1.

This asana is very similar to janu sirshasana. The main difference is that one leg is folded on top of the opposite thigh. It is therefore a little more difficult and applies a greater flexion on the bent leg. This asana should be practised by those people who find janu sirshasana reasonably easy and who want to further loosen up the legs beyond that obtainable from janu sirshasana. People with very stiff legs should not attempt this asana.

Technique

Stage 1 (advanced form)

Sit on the floor with both legs straight.

Fold the left leg and place the left foot on the

right thigh; this is called the half lotus position. Try to place the left foot as high as possible so that in the final pose it will firmly massage the abdominal organs. But don't strain. Ifyou are able, fold your left arm behind your back and try to grasp the toes of the left foot; to do this exhale deeply and bend slightly forwards.

Most people will find this difficult, in which case you should try the simplified form to be described shortly.

Sit upright. Breathe normally.

Relax the whole body, especially the back muscles.

This is the starting position. Stage 2

This is the same as stage 2 forjanu sirshasana except that the straight leg is grasped only by the right hand, the left hand remaining behind the back holding the toes of the left foot. Also, unlike janu sirshasana, those who have supple spinal muscles should hold the big toe of the right foot with the index finger, middle finger and thumb of the right hand, instead of the left hand. Stage 3

This stage is exactly the same as given forjanu sirshasana. The final pose is shown above. One should return to the starting position while breathing in.

The procedure should then be repeated with the right leg folded on the left thigh.

Simplified form

Most people will find it difficult if not totally impossible to grasp the toes of the folded leg with the arm held behind the back. In this case, you should keep both arms in front of the body and grasp the straight leg with the two hands as described for janu sirshasana.

Other details

All other details - breathing, mistakes to avoid, leg loosening and advanced practices in the final pose - are as given for janu sirshasana.

Details on awareness, sequence, duration, limitations and benefits are as given for paschimottanasana1.

Lessons in Raja Yoga

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