Yoga, a holistic practice revered for its ability to harmonize the body, mind, and soul, encompasses a myriad of postures that lead practitioners on an inward journey of self-discovery. Within the framework of Ashtanga Yoga, a dynamic and structured style, lies a sequence of poses designed to progressively guide participants toward physical prowess and inner equilibrium. This article delves into the graceful yet demanding postures of Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana from the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series.

Click here to watch our full tutorial on Kurmasana & Supta Kurmasana

Step-by-Step Instructions for the Full Expression of Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana

We will be entering this posture from downward facing dog, having just taken a vinyasa after Bhujapidasana to seated position. 

(Vinyasa #7) 

From down dog, look forward and hop your feet around your arms to balance on your hands.  Exhale and bend your elbows to lower your body on the floor. Take your legs out wide and push your heels forward as you press your hips backwards.  Work to straighten your legs out in front of you.  Make sure your legs are resting on your upper arms.  Inhale and stretch your arms back and out.  Your goal is to get your stomach, then your chest, and then your chin to rest on the floor.  Breathe here for five deep breaths.  Look in between your eyebrows to your third eye (broomadhya drishti).

(Vinyasa #8) 

After your fifth breath in Kurmasana, bend your elbows and slide your hands towards your hips to lift your torso up enough to be able to start walking both feet towards one another and press your heels together.  Then, take your hands behind your back and  interlace your hands together.  Using your hands as an opposition point, round your back into your bound hands and cross your right foot over your left.  Tuck your head under your feet and press into your forehead.  Breathe here for five deep breaths.

If you have a lot of flexibility and strength, you can attempt to enter Supta Kurmasana from an upright seated position: After your fifth breath in Kurmasana, bend your elbows and slide your hands forward under your thighs. Inhale and press into both hands and lift your torso up to balance on your sits bones.  Stay tall and take your left foot with your right hand. Guide your left leg behind your head.  Push your head back to create oppositional force to assist keeping your leg in place while you balance on your sits bones. 

To assist further with balance, push your right hand down into the ground.  Grab your right foot with your left hand.  Take your right leg behind your head, over top your left.  Bring your hands to the floor in front of you and slowly lower your body down to the ground.  Balance on your forehead.  Take your arms behind your back and bind your hands together.  Breathe here for five deep breaths.

(Vinyasa #9)

Inhale, release your hands.  Take your hands forward on the floor near your feet.  Keeping your legs behind your head, press into your hands to lift your body up.  You are balancing on your hands with both legs behind your head and your head and chin are lifted.

(Vinyasa #10)

Exhale and take your legs backwards to press into your triceps. Inhale here.

(Vinyasa #11)

Exhale and jump back into low plank position.

(Vinyasa #12)

Inhale into upward facing dog

(Vinyasa #13)

Exhale into downward facing dog

Tap above or click here to watch our full tutorial on Kurmasana & Supta Kurmasana

If these postures are new to you, be sure to check out our YouTube tutorial on Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana.  It is a deep dive into the body mechanics of these two postures with a lot of modifications allowing you to safely start wherever you are with your flexibility, balance, strength and stamina, and work with a variation that is accessible to you right now.  Each modification will prepare you for the next, and once you are able to safely and comfortably work with that variation of the asana, you will easily be able to access the full expression of both Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana.  

Modifications for Kurmasana

kurmasana modification

Partial Pose: Rather than aiming for the full expression of Kurmasana, work on the components of the pose. Focus on hip opening, hamstring stretching, and spinal elongation. Over time, you can gradually work towards the full pose.

Hands on Ankles: If clasping your hands under your feet is challenging, start by holding onto your ankles or shins. As your flexibility improves, work towards reaching your feet.

Modifications for Supta Kurmasana

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) Prep: Practice Baddha Konasana to open up the hips and groins. This will help prepare your body for the hip opening required in Supta Kurmasana.

Shoulder Stretching: Focus on shoulder stretches such as Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) or Eagle Arms to gradually increase shoulder flexibility and prepare for the arm bind in Supta Kurmasana.

Half Supta Kurmasana: Instead of aiming for the full pose, start by bringing one leg into the bound position while keeping the other leg extended. Work on deepening the stretch on one side at a time before attempting the full posture.

Progressive Approach: Break down the components of Supta Kurmasana into smaller movements. Gradually work on bringing your legs closer to your body, opening your hips, and releasing tension in your shoulders over time.

Remember that progress in yoga takes time and patience. The ultimate goal is not just achieving the final pose, but cultivating awareness, mindfulness, and self-compassion along the way. Always listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself into discomfort or pain. Through consistent practice and gentle exploration, you can gradually advance towards the full expression of Supta Kurmasana while honoring your body’s uniqueness.

Preparatory Poses:

Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series are invitations to explore the union of strength and softness within our bodies and minds. As you cultivate physical flexibility, you’ll also develop mental resilience, patience, and presence. Remember, yoga is a personal journey, and progress is marked not by reaching the fullest expression of a pose, but by the growth you experience along the way. With consistent practice, these poses can become a doorway to deeper self-awareness and a profound sense of tranquility.

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I am a level II authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher and I am passionate about sharing these teachings with all who wish to learn.

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