Kurmasana

The most dreadful position for me!

This position comes in the middle of the Ashtanga primary series, so you are warmed up and ready to accomplish a challenging position at this stage. I could say that I am a pretty flexible person in general but this Kurmasana position – also called the tortoise pose because you look like a turtle withdrawn into its shell once you have mastered it – is physically and mentally very hard for me to master. I think I have a mental blockage preventing me from doing this position. Something I need to let go. Kurmasana is a place into which we can retreat to reconnect with what is alive inside of us, instead of what is draining our lives outside of us. But also, all of the things from which we are constantly running away have an opportunity to surface. Our fears, our disappointments, even our regrets can arise in this pose. Once acceptance is reached, Kurmasana becomes a keystone to our practice, the place of contentment that is the foundation to a fulfilling and joyous life.

Getting into the position

Sit on the ground with your legs outstretched. Spread your legs to a distance slightly wider than hip width apart. Bend the knees slightly and anchor the heels in the ground. Lean forward from the hips and slide your shoulders under the knees. Stretch your arms to the side with palms pressing down. The knees may be bent more if necessary. Then, if you feel comfortable, slide your heels further to extend the knees more. Do not tense the back muscles. Gradually, keeping the awareness on breath and relaxation, move the body forward until the forehead or chin touches the floor between the legs. Listen to your body; it’s the greatest protection for preventing injuries. If confident, you can move further to Supta Kurmasana, the sleeping tortoise. Fold the arms around the back and interlock the fingers of both hands under the buttocks or behind the waist, walk the feet towards each other and cross the ankles. Hold. Relax the whole body, close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. You can stay in the position as long as it is comfortable. Slowly return to the starting position. You should always perform a counter pose if you are not in the middle of the whole primary series sequence. Purna Dhanurasana is the perfect counter pose.

Benefits

The whole spine stretches forward, increasing the circulation and soothing the nerves. The organs of the abdomen receive an internal massage. The intensive forward bend allows the head, neck and shoulders to relax. It induces introversion, mental relaxation, calm and a sense of inner security and surrender. Passion, fear and anger subside, and the body and mind are refreshed through this practice.

“When like the tortoise, which withdraws on all sides its limbs, he (the aspirant) withdraws his senses from the sense-objects. Then wisdom comes steady. The tortoise symbolizes looking inward, and controlling very carefully what is put out”. The Bhagavad Gita. This idea is a foundational concept in the practice of yoga. When the life of the senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) becomes our main focus, our connection to our center is often lost.