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No doubt about it, Standing Head to Knee is one of the most demanding postures of the entire series.

It’s also an extremely rewarding posture, and you get out of it what you put into it. Every time you come to class, you have four chances, two on each side, to build concentration, strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. Give it your all, and you will make progress.

It’s helpful to think of standing head to knee in four sections.

Part One: Grab your foot, and lock your standing leg knee.

  • Grab your foot. Do it. Move as slowly as needed to maintain your balance, but don’t hesitate to begin the motion.
  • All ten fingers, including thumbs, should be interlaced under your foot.
  • This is a good place to define what we mean in class when we say “lock the knee.” “Lock the knee” is shorthand for 1) Straighten your leg so that your hip joint is over your knee, your knee is over your ankle. 2) Fully engage all the muscles in your standing leg from your ankle up to your hip so that the leg is extremely stable. The easiest muscle to find is the quadriceps, and you’ll definitely need to engage that one to get your leg straight. This lifts your patella, and creates room in your knee joint. But once you have a straight leg, you need to pay very close attention to all the muscles in your legs, contracting your hamstrings, your inner thighs, even your gluteal muscles, to keep your leg strong.
  • Please be careful not to hyperextend your standing leg or allow too much weight to ride back into your standing heel. You are not jamming your knee back; you are creating a straight, strong, table foundation. Your body weight should be distributed evenly over the standing foot, and for most yogis, that means that your weight needs to come forward and into the mound of your big toe.

Part Two: Stretch your lifted leg in front of you. Lock your standing leg knee. Lock your kicking leg knee.

  • Whoops! Did your standing leg bend when you started to kick your right leg in front of you? That’s normal. Lock it again.
  • It’s also normal for your weight to shift back into the heel of your standing foot as you try to lock your kicking leg and maintain your balance. Keep your weight evenly distributed over your standing foot.
  • Your goal is two locked out legs that make a 90-degree angle. When you first see people do it in class, it can look effortless, but it requires constant, concentrated strength.
  • Once your kicking leg is straight, kick your right heel (and your right hip with it) forward to the front mirror and flex your entire foot back toward your face.

Part Three: Start to bend your elbows down toward the floor until your elbows go below your calf muscle. (Standing leg knee is still locked. Kicking leg knee is still locked.)

  • Whoops! As you started to bend your elbows down, what happened to your locked knees? Lock them again!
  • Suck your stomach in (throughout the entire posture) to protect your lower back and get a deeper front side compression.
  • Continue to look forward, continue to kick your heel forward, and be aware of the tendency for your weight to drift back into your standing leg heel.

Part Four: Tuck your chin, round down, and touch your forehead to your knee. (Guess what? You are still locking both legs!)

  • For the first three parts of the posture, your eyes have been looking forward in the front mirror, focused on your standing leg knee. Now you will need to shift your gaze. A good place to look is at your standing leg big toe, but at first, just looking down toward the floor will be a big change. This step requires intense concentration, continued leg strength, and engaged abdominal muscles.
  • Slowly round down, belly button pulled in toward your spine, both legs locked. One day your forehead will touch your knee. It’s extremely possible that you will then grin and immediately fall out of the posture. Awesome! Come back and try again tomorrow.

This posture requires a great deal of honest patience. You should have a solid grasp of each part before moving on to the next. Everybody’s “schedule” will be different. Honor your own pace.

However, it’s also important not to get stuck in one place. Insist on proper alignment and experiment with what comes next. Teachers will help you know if you’re ready to move or if you’ve gone too far, and you can always ask questions before or after class.

Benefits of Standing Head to Knee:

  • Develops concentration, patience, determination and self-confidence
  • Strengthens abdominal muscles
  • Strengthens leg muscles
  • Strengthens muscles of the feet and ankles
  • Improves flexibility of the hamstrings and Achilles tendon
  • Stretches the sciatic nerves
  • Strengthens muscles of the upper arms, shoulder, and back
  • Creates front side compression, flushing internal organs
  • Increases heart rate

-Ellen Olson-Brown, The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford

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