It’s one of the hardest postures in the Bikram yoga series: Standing Head to Knee. For beginners, you may stand there, hopping around, wondering why on earth your heart rate is racing from simply holding on to your foot. Standing Head to Knee is kind of everything about Hatha yoga wrapped up in one posture: challenging, rewarding and full of potential.
Health Benefits of Standing Head to Knee
- Increase cardiovascular strength, weight loss
- Tones the legs, including the inner thigh
- Stretches your hamstrings and lower spine
- Improves core strength
- Strengthens the muscles around your knees and ankles
- Promotes mental discipline
How to Nail the Posture
Understand the four phases of the posture
- Phase 1: Hold the foot and engage the core and leg (this is a great way to stretch your lower spine)
- Phase 2: Extend the leg straight in front of you (focusing your mind and engaging your core)
- Phase 3: Stretching the hamstring, lower spine and relaxing your wrists
- Phase 4: Curling in to place you forehead on your knee
Engage the whole leg
Please do not jam your knee back to “lock the knee”. Think about engaging the whole leg and lifting “up”. As your leg engages you’re lifting your entire body up, ensuring that you don’t sink into your hip. This leg work is part of the reason the posture is so cardio intensive.
Place the weight on the ball of your foot
It’s easy to rock back into your heel in this posture, but shift the weight forward to the ball of your foot. This will prevent you from over extending the knee and helps you engage your whole leg.
Scoop your core
This posture is intended to use your core just as much as you use your legs, but it takes some serious practice! When your core disengages, simply re-scoop your abs for additional core strength. This will make it easier to hold your foot, kick out in the second part of the posture, and tuck down and place your forehead on the knee. This final phase of the posture is only possible with a very strong core!
Breath work during this posture is key. If you’re staying in the first part of the posture, simply breath normally with an engaged core. If you are kicking out and advancing in the posture, I suggest breathing in when you kick your leg out in the second part of the posture. Take another deep inhale and slightly exhale as you pull your arms down for the third phase. And then take a deep breath in and slowly exhale as you curl in for the final expression of the posture. This focused breath work with not only keep the oxygen moving throughout your body, it helps transition and advance in the posture.
Focus your mind
The final expression of the posture takes an even breath, strong core, and focused mind. Practice clearing your mind and only thinking about engaging your leg muscles and core.
When you’re in the third and fourth part of the posture, make sure your wrists are straight (see Martha’s alignment above). This means that you may need to loosen your grip slightly on your foot in order to have a straight wrist. Your hands may be a little more slippery than usual, but this should help when you bend your arms down and transition into the fourth part of the posture.
Skip the backbends between sets
Some studios offer a backbend between the sets of this posture, I strongly suggest skipping it and allowing yourself to breathe. I find that the backbend actually increases my heart rate even more, when what I really need is to slow my breathing. You can roll your shoulders back, while maintaining
Look at your toe
When you curl down into the fourth phase of the posture, try focusing on the big toe of your standing foot. This will help focus your mind and maintain your balance and you curl in. I personally never shift my gaze up into my navel in the final posture, I keep my eyes looking down to hold the posture.
Don’t give up
Avoid giving up in the posture, or in your practice! Keep going to class, work hard, and you will see significant improvements in this posture. It’s okay if you never advance to the final expression of the posture. Work hard, and reap the benefits.
This posture is tough, but it’s worth all the hard work. Trust me!