Q: I recently injured my back doing Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. Do you have any tips on how I can avoid this from happening again?
A: Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolving Head to Knee Pose) is a classic side bending yoga posture meant to primarily target and stretch the oblique muscles (lateral abdominal muscles that generate side flexion and torso rotation) while also sending a nourishing side bend into the vertebrae.
Secondary benefits of the side bending yoga pose:
*stretching of hamstring muscles
*stretching upper/lateral back muscles like the latissimus dorsi
*expands the intercostal muscles within the ribs, thus inviting greater lung mobility and capacity
*massaging of internal organs due to mild compression of the side bend
*also a relaxing yoga pose for the mind and nervous system
Low and mid-back injuries can easily occur in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana when one does not have proper pelvic foundation prior to the side bending motion.
Two common errors occur in starting off this pose:
1) For those who are not flexible throughout the hips and pelvis, the pelvis tends to shift back causing the body to lean into the back of the sit-bones and the heart drops down (spine falls into mild forward flexion). With this collasped position, the torso will tend to rotate downwards as the body side bends other the thigh. With this torso angle, the stretching line moves from the desired oblique region into an ineffective back stretch (ie into the Quadratus Lumborum). This improper angle of stretching back muscles is often heavily overloaded by body weight. When one tries to return up to sitting without awareness, these unanticipated, stretched back muscles may encounter a pull or strain.
PREVENTION: If you lack enough flexibility to sit high on the sit-bones, then sit on a block/cushion which will increase the mobility of the pelvis. Once you are sitting tall, slightly turn your chest towards your bent knee – this will improve the angle of stretch and target the obliques over moving the stretch into the back.
2) Some people have too much pelvic mobility and fall forward into the front edge of the sit-bones prior to side bending. This forward tilt generates a small, but compressive low back arch. With the spine slightly compressed in the sagittal plane, the side bend may add further compression into the back edges of the vertebrae.
PREVENTION: If you have hyper-mobility in sitting positions and tend to fall forward into improper low-back arches, slightly engage the abdominal muscles to return evenness around your belly, waist and low back. As you side bend, be mindful of the ease you have to turn your chest upwards. Excessive rotation of the torso away from the ground may push the belly outwards and send the low spine into hyperextension. In simple terms, keep awareness on drawing the sit-bones continuously back to neutral, avoiding a sudden forward tilt.
These principles can be easily applied to all seated side bends:
*keep both sit-bones grounded to maintain the primary stretch – opening the distal ribs away from the hip crest to stretch the obliques
*prevent the chest from rotating or “looking” down to keep the expansion in the side body
*prevent the spine from back arching when turning the chest away from the floor
*establish your sitting position first, move into the side bend without the arm lift, shift and play with your pelvis and sit-bones to bring the stretch more effectively into the side and out of the back, then explore the upwards arm positions
Like EVERY yoga pose, spinal quality and integrity is the main priority. Work into the pose slowly to find this foundation and steadiness. After this foundation is acquired, calmly and without ego venture out through the limbs.