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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.