A classic yoga posture, Knees-to-Chest Pose has many therapeutic benefits. Because it's performed on your back, it is sometimes referred to as “Supine Knees-to-Chest Pose.” Though the pose is rarely referred to by its Sanskrit name — Apanasana (ah-pahn-AHS-uh-nuh) — it can be helpful to understand its meaning. It comes from two Sanskrit words: “Apana” (meaning, “downward-flowing life force”) and “asana” (meaning, “pose”). In yoga, apana is a bodily energy that serves as the opposite function of “prana,” which is considered the vital life force.
Prana gives life to the body through breathing and other techniques. Apana, in contrast, is the body's force of elimination. It flows downward and out of the body, eliminating impurities through the lungs and excretory systems. Practicing Apanasana relieves the pressure of this force of elimination, helping the body to efficiently reduce and expel waste, toxins, and tension.
Benefits of Knees-to-Chest Pose
The benefits of Apanasana are closely related to those of its variation, Wind-Relieving Pose (Pavanamuktasana): Relief from excess digestive air, indigestion, bloating, flatulence, acidity, and constipation. It is often recommended for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
In each pose, there should be repose.
In addition, this pose helps to keep your low back limber. It is often used as a soothing counter-pose to backbends and spinal twists. Because your body is compact in the pose, your thoughts are more easily drawn inward, which is useful for calming the mind and rebalancing your energy.
Do not practice this pose if you are recovering from abdominal surgery or a hernia. Also avoid this pose if you have a spinal, knee, or hip injury. If you have a neck injury, do not lift your head (see Modifications & Variations, below). Women who are pregnant should not practice this pose after the first trimester. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin by lying on your back, with your legs and arms extended.
- As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. If it is possible for you, wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Keep your back flat on the mat. Release your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Broaden across your collar bones.
Draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the mat, lengthening your spine even more.
- If it is comfortable for you to do so, softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage.
- Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down the center line of your body.
- Hold for up to one minute. Keep your breath smooth and even.
- With an exhalation, release and extend both legs along the floor and rest. Repeat up to six times.
Modifications & Variations
Knees-to-Chest Pose is good for all students, from beginners to advanced practitioners. There should be no pain and very little discomfort when performed. If you need to modify the pose to make it more comfortable, try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:
- To deepen the stretch, bring your nose to your knees when you're in the full pose.
- If your stomach or chest is large, it might be difficult to clasp both hands around your legs. Instead, draw each knee slightly to the side of your body, toward each same-side armpit. Hold onto your shins with each hand, instead of clasping your legs directly over your chest.
- If it is still difficult to hold onto your shins, wrap a yoga strap around the soles of your feet with your knees bent. Hold onto the strap with both hands to help draw your knees in closer.
Practicing Knees-to-Chest Pose can be calming and comforting. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Keep your spine lengthening along the floor all the way through your tailbone. Resist the tendency to let your buttocks and hips lift from the mat. It is more important to have a long spine than to draw your knees tightly in to your chest.
- If you have any discomfort in your head or neck, place a firm blanket under your head.
Purify & Rebalance
Practicing Apanasana is a gentle way to restore proper flow and function to the organs of your torso. As you release excess pressure from your digestive organs and low back, your mind will begin to release its pressures and tensions, as well. Practice this pose first thing in the morning and as last thing before going to bed. It's a simple way to encourage your body, mind, and spirit to remain pure and balanced throughout your day!