What is Kurmasana?
Kurmasana, translating to the Tortoise pose, is an intense forward-bending seated posture. It derives its name from its resemblance to a tortoise in the final position. Offering many health benefits, Kurmasana encourages withdrawal of the senses and inward awareness. Practicing Kurmasana stimulates the muscles, encourages blood circulation and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing a sense of peace and calm. However, being an intermediate-advanced posture, Kurmasana takes time and preparatory exercises to achieve effectively.
Position type: Seated
Posture type: Forward Bend
Ideal for: Flexibility
Targets: Hamstrings and back
Pose level: Advanced
How can you prepare for Kurmasana
The Tortoise pose requires lower body strength and flexibility. Improving hip flexibility with asanas such as the standing forward fold, triangle pose, high lunge and low lunge, and hip openers like bound angle pose, garland pose, bow pose and pigeon pose are helpful. Stretching the hamstrings will help improve elasticity and flexibility over time.
Lower back flexibility
The better your back flexibility, the better the chances of doing Kurmasana with ease. Work on back flexibility with postures such as the cobra pose, locust pose, camel pose and standing forward fold. As back flexibility improves, you will find easing into the posture is easier.
A strong core will support you in any posture you attempt. Regularly practicing the triangle pose, warrior series, boat pose and plank are important. Try to practice Chaturanga Dandasana and different plank drills to improve core strength too.
How to do the Tortoise Pose
Getting into the posture
- Come into a seated position with your legs extended in front of you and back straight.
- Keep the legs shoulder-width apart with the knees slightly above the ground.
- Now, placing the hands in front of you between your legs, slide your arms to either side with the palms facing downwards. Slowly, the arms should slide underneath the knees.
- As the arms slide under the knees, bend forward bringing your upper body towards your lower body.
- Keep the shoulders open, bringing your chest and head forward. As you ease forward, the chin will touch the ground. Keep trying to drop the head towards the ground.
- Once you have lowered your upper body completely, straighten your legs.
- Keep your attention inwards and gaze forward. Take slow deep breaths and relax here completely. Stay here for about 20-30 seconds.
Getting out of the posture
- To come out of the pose, slowly bend your knees and lift the upper body.
- Bring the arms out from under the knees and sit up straight once again.
Key alignments in the Tortoise Pose
- Ensure the back is straight as you ease forward. Initially, it might round a little but as you ease forward, keep trying to straighten the back.
- As the legs straighten out, the hands also must remain straight under the knees as much as possible.
What are the benefits of Tortoise Pose?
Kurmasana massages and stimulates all the digestive system organs, including the kidneys and liver. The posture tones the abdominal region, strengthens the core muscles and lower back. It is also helpful in relieving lower back and sciatic pain. It also stretches through inner thighs and groin. Kurmasana enhances blood circulation, reduces stress and anxiety and encourages inwardness. It is also helpful with asthma as it opens up the chest and lungs.
What are the contraindications of Tortoise Pose?
Anyone who has recently gone through any surgery or is suffering from herniated discs should avoid the asana. Those with chronic back pain or severe sciatic pain should avoid the pose. In case of injuries to the hips, knees, back, shoulder or arms, avoid doing Kurmasana. The posture is also not recommended for anyone with arthritis. Pregnant women should also avoid Kurmasana.
Counter poses for Kurmasana
Sit in the Staff Pose, Dandasana for a few minutes and gently shake the legs a little. You can also sit in a simple cross-legged posture, Sukhasana for a few minutes after practicing Kurmasana.
Variations of Kurmasana
- As this is an advanced posture, to start with you may want to wrap the hands on the outside of the ankles. You can also place the hands on the sides of the buttocks instead of stretching them to the sides.
- Instead of aiming to place the head and chin on the floor, start by placing your forehead on the mat. You can also place a block in front of you and place your forehead on that in the beginning.
- To increase your challenge, you can practice the Sleeping Tortoise Pose (Supta Kurmasana), Half Tortoise Pose (Ardha Kurmasana) or the Upside Down Tortoise Pose (Uttana Kurmasana). Keep in mind to practice this only under the guidance of an experienced teacher and only once you are comfortable.
Advice for Beginners
Remember to only practice Kurmasana once you have gained the required strength and flexibility. Release the posture if you have any discomfort in the legs, knees or back. Do not hesitate to take the support of blocks or adapt modifications wherever you need to.
- Being an advanced posture, it is an absolute must that you learn to practice step-by-step with an experienced teacher to avoid injuries.
- Spend time working on your back and hip flexibility. Gradually you will find the pose more easily accessible.
- Ensure you keep your awareness on the lower back throughout the practice.
Learn how to practice the Tortoise Pose LIVE with experienced teachers on Shvasa.