Journey to finding the tortoise

Kurmasana

The look of this pose doesn't seem very impossible but resembles that of a contortionist. Upon first attempt, I felt there were many "mini" obstacles while trying to get into the pose. However, doing several stretches and build up poses before attempting Kurmasana is highly necessary and will help one ease into the pose more comfortably.

The muscles that lengthen in this pose are:

1) Gluteus Maximus ( more so with narrow straddle)

2) Piriformis

3) Pectineus

4) Inner Hamstrings

5) Outer Hamstrings

6) Spinal Extensors

Engaging the abductors and hip flexors will assist to pull into the pose. Abductors such as gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata.

First,use facilitated stretching to contract muscles during active static stretch. To stretch the gluteus maximus and tensor fascia lata, sit cross legged on the floor. Grab the right flexed leg towards chest and sway from side to side. Repeat on left.

Second, if you have a partner, you can engage your partner to assist you to deepen your hamstring stretch in Supta Padangusthasana.

Thrid, open hips in a active static stretch in Ashwa Sanchalasana (low lunge) and Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon).

You can also throw in Utkatasana, Garudasana, Uttanasana, Adho Muka Svanasana and Utthita Parsvakonasana to warm up and release the hips, thighs, and back body.

Take a Baddha Konasana just before attempting Kurmasana. The deep stretch from the hips and back muscles will prepare you to fold your torso forward in the main pose. It also encourages the external rotation in the hip sockets and a release in the inner groin.

Finally, take Upavistha Konasana to stretch the Hamstrings and lower back deeply. Here, ensure a solid base from which you can hinge your torso forward.

Now you are well stretch and warm to attempt Kurmasna and even a deeper pose, Supta Kurmasana. From Dhanasana, spread legs so there is 60 degree angle between your legs. Extending the torso from the hip, fold forward and tuck arms underneath thighs. Widen the backs of your thighs and rotate your legs so that your knees and toes point straight up. Stretch your legs out from your hips and widen your arms so that your limbs help to spread the back muscles and lengthen your front body. Use an inhalation to lengthen your sternum and chin forward. Use an exhalation to slide the heels along the floor.

To take a step further into Supta Kurmasana, turn the palms up to face the ceiling and move the arms back toward the hips. Bend the knees slightly and lift the shoulders and chest off the floor a few inches. From there, bend the elbows and reach the forearms behind your back to clasp your hands. Walk your feet together one at a time and cross the right ankle over the left. Tuck the chin and place the head under the feet or just behind them with the forehead on the floor. Stay in the pose as long as you are able to breathe smoothly and deeply. If you crossed the right foot over the left, repeat the pose again, this time crossing the left over the right.

The benefits of this pose includes:

Strengthens  and lengthen backback and decompresses spin

Tones abdominal organs and improve the functioning of the digestive and respiratory systems

Enhances hip flexibility ; opens pelvis and stregthen outer hips

Quiets the mind - release stress and helps to relieve insomnia

Precaution:

Should not be performed if you are suffering from any recent arm, hip or shoulder injuries.

This pose becomes a lot more achieveable when the body is warmed up as the stretch is rather intense and requires a certain level of flexibility. It also requires a calm and quiet mind to surrender into the pose and enjoy the sensations while being in the pose. Using inhalation and exhalation is essential to easy into the asana and remain in it. When you feel stuck a moment of conscious breathing will let you see clearly wheather it's wiser to move deeper or back off. It is known that Kurmasana stimulates and brings the state of pratyahara into being. As you breathe deeply, turning inward of the senses that disengages you from all the distractions of the external world, sharpen your focus on your internal experience and withdraw all sensory perception. Feel your mind become soft and still with each exhalation. This pose, similar to many other yoga poses is great because it not only enhances the physical body in terms of strength and flexibility, it aids internal organs and helps the mind relax, de-stress yet sharpens focus.

Valerie Lange

200hrs Weekend (Jan to May 2015)