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Is Supta Kurmasana really preparing you for Second Series Dwi Pada?

This morning, I read, Anthony’s Hall’s wonderful post on Supta Kurmasana which bought up a question or two. In his post, he talked about  how Manju Jois stated that the feet should go above the head and not behind it for Supta Kurmasana.

“Yes, they were never on top of your head in Supta kurmasana. It’s all new. Yah there was never… you are not supposed to put your legs behind, they should always be..(above the head not behind) because if you look at a tortoise the head goes in the back is round. Somebody started doing that and in the future that’s going to cause a lot of problems for people with their necks, it is not supposed to take so much weight. See that’s when they are trying to slowly change all the things, not the way they are supposed to be doing it…”-Manju Jois

 

I had a brief discussion with David Keil, my anatomy Guru and Ashtanga teacher who was authorized by Pattabhi Jois, and that 5 minute convo was very insightful.

According to David, the Yoga Mala written by Pattabhi Jois, does not state that the legs need to go behind the head.  I had to check and indeed this is true.

Lower down to the floor with the strength of the arms, stretch the arms out under the thighs, straighten the legs, put the chin on the floor, lift the head to some extent, and do rechaka and puraka as much as possible. Then, doing rechaka, bring the hands up behind the back and take hold of the wrists; this is the 8th vinyasa. Next, cross the legs over each other, put the head on the floor, and do puraka and rechaka as much as possible; this is the 9th vinyasa, which is called supta kurmasana-Yoga Mala pages 89-91.

The pictures do show Sharath with his legs behind his head even though the texts does not explicitly state this.

In Sharath’s book Astanga Yoga Anusthana, it states,

inhale, cross the feet, and if possible, take then behind the head. Page 62

 

My second question for David was, “is it possible for everyone to cross their feet above their head.

They would have to round their spine more, make the hump bigger so reducing torso length relative to leg length.  It’s on a case by case basis… I’m sure there is someone out there who cannot do what we’re talking about because of proportions.

So this brought up the question, Is Supta K really a prep for Dwi Pada in second series? In Anthony’s blog post, he answers the question, When to introduce the 2nd series leg behind head entry to Supta kurmasana?  Maybe the answer is never. To get into Supta Kurmasana, the back actually needs to be flexed  to get the feet above the head while on the belly.  The hump is exaggerated. For Second Series, even thought there is obviously still flexion in the back, you are trying to extend the spine. Take a look at the two pictures below. The first is Supta Kurmasana and there is a a big hump to the spine. The second is Krista Shirley preparing to lift up from Dwi Pada Sirsasaa and her spine is much longer and she is extending to keep her feet in place.

 

suptakurmasana455 dwipadasirsasana158

 

I totally understand that when practicing alone, using the Dwi Pada Sirsasana entrance may be the only  way to get into Supta Kurmasana. However the poses are different.

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

4 Comments

  • Anonymous Yogi

    I did an intensive with manju a couple years ago and he said the same about supta. Back then I was still new to Ashtanga so I trusted this but as I practiced in other places and my feet were put behind my head I began to believe this was the actual method. I am curious what you think where this feet behind the head came from or is it like this because of how it is taught in Mysore now? When mentioned to other teachers the answer given is there are two versions of supta. One for primary one for second series practitioners. How does that make sense? For second series practitioners working before splitting? Or on Friday when it is “easy day”? Supta with the legs behind the head on the ground looks very different than dwi pada as it should be they are different asanas.

    • admin

      That is a good question. However,any answer I give you will be a theory. Any answer anyone gives you will probably be a theory. I really don’t know. It is even possible that Sharath and Patttabhi Jois may even have given different reasons. Maybe he taught Sharath that way and it just stayed. I don’t know.

  • Laine

    I recall Manju saying the exact same thing during a workshop. One of my fellow practioners can get her legs behind the head while on the floor and although he didn’t correct her during the practice he did talk about it later.

  • Fredel C.

    This is really interesting… Since ive Been practicing, ive been taught to put my legs behind the head…
    And yes I’ve always thought it was some sort of prep for dwipada sirsasana from second series… Since some of my teachers adjust me to get in to a deeper crossed legs position behind the head from sitting in dwipada before resting my head on the floor…
    Thx for sharing this!… It’s cool to learn and see where and why things come from and how they modify within time!…

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