Asana of the Week: Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana

This week's Asana is Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana, or Compass pose.
How much do I love Compass pose?  A whole lot.  It's a fantastic asana for tight hips and hamstrings, with the added bonus of a nice side stretch that runs all the way up through the shoulder.  Hip and hamstring openers have been a recurring theme here, and that's because they are areas of constant tension for myself and many others.

When first learning Compass pose, my hamstring and shoulder tension were my biggest obstacles.  Occasionally, I still experience some intense sensation in the shoulder when practicing this asana, so I would suggest when practicing Compass pose to be mindful of how much you're pushing through the foot against the pull of the arm.  You'll notice in the picture that my elbow is fairly bent to ease the stretch in the outer shoulder.  The same principle applies to the leg if the hamstrings are tight.  Keep a slight bend in the knee and focus more on bringing the knee high onto the shoulder.

Compass pose is excellent preparation for the leg-behind-head postures as it develops that same mobility around the hip joints.  Aside from the physical benefits of practicing Compass pose, a long stay in this asana makes me feel like a work of art.  It's gloriously opening and statuesque, with beautiful asymmetry that leads up to a single point in the extended foot.  I'm not much of a dancer, but the beauty of the practice never fails to amaze me.

Readers:  what's your experience with Compass pose?


  1. Looking fab, Misanthropic! I first encountered this one in an Anusara workshop and like you I haven't really seen it anywhere else. Since I usually practice ashtanga I haven't given it much thought since, but you inspire me to re-connect with it! It is a beautiful pose!

  2. My experience of compass pose was one of the most agonising moments of my life. Turns out my hips don't move that way - once bone hits bone it ain't gonna open any further! ;)

    Fantastic picture.

  3. My question is at what level of intensity have you practiced since starting yoga to be doing such advanced poses with such great alignment? i think you mentioned finding yoga just 3 years ago? That's amazing! From that point, did you have a daily practice and for how long each day?

  4. La Gitane - Thanks, lady! I too tend to forget about this pose. It came up as an Asana of the Week candidate because I was looking for alternative seated twisting postures to the ashtanga marichyasana set. Was reminded how much I love Compass.

    Rachel - Yikes! Sounds awful. Out of curiosity, are you able to put your knee over your shoulder, ala eka pada bhujasana, or is it this type of motion that your hips do not allow for? I remember you saying that marichyasana A is a position that feels good to you. The hip stretch in Compass is similar to that, assuming the hamstrings are open. I'm just curious about the differences in anatomy and effects on mobility.

    Yoga365 - The first year was touch and go -- a day or two here and there of practice, a few times a week at best -- but I have maintained a daily practice (5-6 days per week) for the past two years with few breaks, practicing for 1-3 hours a day. These days, my daily practice is usually about 2.5 hours, including a 20 minutes meditation.

  5. Holy crap! 2.5 hours a day! Wow!!! When did you notice some really profound shifts, anatomically or otherwise? That's nuts! How do you decide what to do for 2.5 hours? I need to really chisel out that kind of time for my own practice, and commit. It's the topic of every journal and blog entry.. .. sigh......Do you practice in the am? What do you on days of low motivation?

  6. Well, physically, I started seeing the differences almost right away. A few months after I started practicing with any regularity, I started getting comments on how strong I looked. I lost a little bit of weight, but most of the hard work was moving through tension. My hips were a complete mess, my neck and shoulders were riddled with knots. And I was very angry, all the time. Mentally and emotionally, the changes have been gradual but profound. I hate to try to summarize the process here.

    The 2.5 hours go by pretty fast. I always start with 20 minutes of seated meditation, about 10 minutes of warm-up postures, then 6 suryas (three As and three Bs), and that's about 45 minutes gone already. From there, I base my practice loosely on the ashtanga primary series, but deviate into a variety of flows as I see fit. Time wise, it breaks down to about 45 minutes of ritual (i.e. meditation, pranyama, suryas), 45 minutes of standing, 30 minutes of seated, 20 minutes of finishing (backbends, inversions, tolasana), and about 10 minutes in savasana. Like I said, it varies. Sometimes I'll work on my backbends or handstands for a half hour, or exhaust myself in a long standing sequence and skimp on the seated and finishing postures, but for the most part, that's how it goes.

  7. Have you ever read Dr. Ray Long's anatomy books? They kick ass! I think you'd love them.
    check out www.bandhayoga.com
    lemme know what you think

  8. Hey lady!

    So, guess which pose came up as a master class in YJ this month? Visvamitrasana! Co-incidence? I think not. Going to try that baby out tomorrow morning. :D

    And since you posted this I had a nice play with compass. Left side = awesome. Right side = not. LOL. But totally enjoyable to play nonetheless.