|Supta Kurmasana - legs behind the head or above the head|
Here's an old video of my Supta Kurmasana, I was quite proud of this at the time, employing the 2nd series dwi pada sirsasana transition with a double salko, became my entry of choice and I employed it confidently on Manju's workshop while practicing Primary one morning.
While chilling in the asana with my feet nicely fishtailed, Manju comes up and lifts my feet from behind my head and places them on the floor just above my head....that's above my head NOT behind my head...SAY WHAT? But I thought.......
I asked Manju about it after practice and then in the Q and A session at the end of the day
from this post
MJ: So have YOU got any questions?
(Manju looked right at me here, we'd been discussing a couple of things regarding asana in the break and I felt Manju wanted to mention them in the class. He'd been concerned about a couple of instances in the course book we were given where the chin was on the mat or knee rather than the forehead).
ME: I wanted to ask you about, you adjusted me today, thank-you, in supta kurmasana...
Me: ...and I learnt somewhere, somewhere or other I picked up that once you practiced Intermediate series then you do a dwi pada sirsasana (both legs behind head while seated) entry to Supta Kurmasana, you go in with the legs behind the head...but I noticed you brought my legs out from behind my head (/neck/shoulders) (on to the top of my head)...
MJ: 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...
Me: ( I ask ) Because it made it into the book ( the Greek version of Manju's Adjutments book and also Manju's Ashtanga Yoga co written with Greg Tebi) ..., It's behind the neck here ( showing picture).
|Manju says the forehead should be down in supta Kurmasana|
|Forehead down in Yoga mudra|
|Forehead to the knee ( as in the name of the asana) in Ardhabadhapadmapaschimottanasana|
And here are the same 'error's' in Manju's Ashtanga Yoga with Greg Tebi
MJ: See we're going to clean all that up (laughs)
Me: That makes sense because the exit (from supta kurmasana) is tittbhaasana..
MJ: The only time you can do that (legs behind head) is in dwi pada sirsasana because you are sitting and in yoga mudra you are actually laying on your feet. We did that book in a rush, that's why.
In our discussion earlier, outside class, Manju had been talking about the clues (often) being in the names, so in Janushirsasana the head should be on the knee. He asked to check something in the book, Yoga mudra, and said that the forehead should be on the mat not the chin. He seemed concerned about these aspects.
And I guess it makes sense. Now if you have a beautiful dwi pada sirsasana with both legs so far behind that they are actually nicely placed behind the shoulders then it's probably safe enough to practice your supta kurmasana that way, but the point is that MOST practitioners DON'T have their legs that far over their shoulders, not for quite some time....
So, the idea that we do the dwi pada sirsasana transition into Supta kurmasana after getting dwi pada sirsasana in 2nd should probably be clarified to When we've been practicing Dwi pada sirsasana for long enough for our legs to be nicely behind the shoulders rather than the head and head THEN consider using that transition into Supta kurmasana, otherwise Manju would argue that there is just too much pressure on the back of the neck in the posture.
Manju goes further though arguing it's not the asana, that like the turtle/tortoise, the head is inside the shell thus behind the feet.
Miss the dwi pada version a little, was nice to bring the leg behind head stuff into primary(especially after all those hip openers) and I love the exit but then it's pretty much the same exit from bhuja pidasana via titthibahsana and bakasana so no need to do it twice.
Here's my Supta K shuffle post if you think you might want to switch back too but have forgotten how.
The Supta K shuffle.
I mentioned in earlier posts that I'd had a slight problem with my back, it's fine now but I held off forward bends and leg behind head poses for a couple of weeks. Mostly the problem was in lowering into and lifting out of forward bends, once I was down I was OK, skipping LBH was just a cautionary move. That was fine and I came up with some nice Vinyasa Krama work around's but I did come a little unstuck with Supta Kurmasana.
For the last couple of years I've been using the 2nd series Dwi pada entry (both legs behind head), now I had to try and remember how I used to get into it the old way. I used to do something I called the Supta K shuffle but it took me a week or so to re learn it. I'd always meant to film this as I've come across several blogger's mentioning that they struggle to get into the pose without a teacher to cross their feet for them.
So here it is while I remember, the trick is to shuffle the left foot as far over to the right as possible so it meets the right foot. Use the outside of the top half of the right foot to lever the heel up and over the left foot to hook them together, then you can move both feet to the centre of the mat and curl your head in. You can get in tight enough that you can lift up almost as if you do have both legs all the way behind the head.
*So this is one of those questions, is it a Horses for courses, You say tomato I say tomato... kind of thing, things change or does it matter.
Only kurmasana is mentioned in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda but here's Iyengar in Light on yoga
"now move the feet towards the head"......"insert the head between the feet and keep the forehead on the floor" 291 Light on Yoga
|B. K. S. Iyengar|
"Then doing rechecka, bring the hands up behind the back and take hold of the wrist; 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, the state of which is called supta kurmasana" p90-91
But THIS picture
In Sharath's book, Astanga yoga Anusthana there's the same picture, we find this though...
"astau 8 ; exhale , take the arms behind the back and lock the hands
nava 9; inhale, cross the feet and if possible put them behind the head, the right leg should be on top of the left. breath five times".
Don't suppose you'd get kicked out of Mysore or your shala for either version. Me, I happen to think of Manju as my Ashtanga teacher and besides I think he's probably right re the pressure on the neck. Plus these days I'm all for a cleaner, simpler, stripped back practice.
I lost supta kurmasana for some time. I'd been focussing on Krishnamacharya's early work, lengthening the breath, introducing kumbhaka's, exploring longer stays, I ended up with only enough time to practice half a series, if that, a trimmed down version of half at that. During this period I had a lot of disruption going on with my upcoming move to Japan followed by settling back into a new life here. Yama/niyama's slipped, discipline was lost somewhat and I put on a little weight. When I started yoga ten years ago I was 94 kilo, after a year or two of practice and also becoming vegetarian I dropped down to 77 kilo. Back here in Japan last year, I went up to 84 kilo, not as overweight as before but I wasn't feeling uncomfortable so decided to be more disciplined in my eating. In six months I went down to my present weight of 73 kilo and I seem to have levelled out. I dwell on my weight because as soon as I dropped my weight, marichiyasana D came straight back, pashasana... and so too did Supta Kurmasana.
I'm not saying that only thin people can do these postures but it clearly helps and if you're carrying a little extra weight then that can make the postures more challenging, something else to fight against. If you are carrying a little weight, are a fuller figure and are comfortable and satisfied in your body then the full Instagram supta kurmasana may not be for you and you should just move on to the next posture. There are different degrees of a posture that are more/most appropriate for us, Instagram and those who promote their businesses through it rather than just sharing successes and encouragement with friends distort our view on what is an appropriate expression of a posture.
Supta kurmasana is one of the most challenging postures in it's full form, it's often called a gatekeeper to 2nd series.
Personally, currently, I don't feel supta kurmasana has any place in a 'Primary' group/series, certainly not Supta. A bent knee version of kurmasana with the forehead to the floor seems more than sufficient. If somebody ends up practicing the intermediate group/series ( Jois said that Intermediate was for for teachers) then perhaps on their Primary Friday practice they might work at flattening a little further and crossing the legs above, rather than behind the head.
If you insist on practicing supta kurmasana then rather than binding behind the back, the arms running back beside the body beside the hips or somewhat behind the buttocks should I feel be considered sufficient for many if not most.
Adjusting somebody into supta kurmasana strikes me as rather questionable, as Simon Borg-Olivier ( a physiotherapist) points out, the tensions on the body, the deep forward bend of kurmasana followed by the extreme chest opening of supta kurmasana and then, these days, the stress on the shoulders of lifting up into tittibhasana for the exit is more than the body is prepared for. Perhaps after a great deal of preparation and years of practice, the body might be in such a condition for some of us to approach it but in Primary series one is asking for trouble. And of course, as we struggle with the posture, our bodies clearly displaying that we are not sufficiently prepared for it, up steps a teacher to stuff us, like a cushion, into the posture, worrying.