Asana of the Week: Purvottanasana

It's no coincidence that the past few asanas of the week have had similar-sounding Sanskrit names.  I'm straightening this mess out once and for all, for myself and for those who make this mistake with me.  Sanskrit lesson #1 at Damn Good Yoga:  Parsvakonasana, Parsvottansana, and Purvottanasana.  Similar, but different.  Let's keep 'em straight, shall we?

Good.  Now that we've taken care of that...

Purvottanasana.  Eastern Stretch.  It's a heart opener without the big backbend, which makes it a great pose for developing the openness in the chest and shoulders and the strength in the legs and arms to practice safe, muscularly supported backbends.  It's also an excellent counter-pose to forward bending postures.

Purvottanasana tones the hamstrings, inner thighs, and soleus muscles of the lower legs as the hips lift and the toes reach toward the floor.  The triceps contract to straighten the arms which lengthens the biceps and lifts and spreads the chest, bringing a deep stretch to the anterior deltoids and pectoralis major.

Set up for Purvottanasana in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with the inner legs together and the feet in plantar flexion (pointed toes).  Take the hands to the mat 6-10 inches behind the hips with the fingers pointing forward.  On an inhalation, press into the hands and engage the backs of the legs to lift the hips.  The legs and arms should be straight with the wrists aligned directly beneath the shoulders.  If they are not, come down and adjust the position of the hands accordingly.

Ground through the inner edges of the feet to externally rotate the legs.  Press all ten toes down to the floor then gently drop the head back on an exhalation.  Stretch through the chin to open the throat but be careful not to crunch the back of the neck.  If the hamstrings are weak, you may be tempted to compensate by recruiting the gluteus maximus, which is likely to hyper-extend the lumbar spine.  Don't do this.  Relax the bum.  If you feel you are straining or experience pinching in the low back, bend the knees and practice a tabletop position instead.


  1. Simply beautiful !


  2. Mmmm, love this pose!

    I find when teaching it that it helps to get people to try both versions and see which one they find works best for them. For beginners I also like to do 3 repetitions: first two are held for one breath only, the final one for 3 breaths. Advanced students can play with leg lifts. ;) Such a fun pose! One of my personal faves, when I finally got to where it felt comfortable. When you throw your head back it's such a liberation. :)

  3. Nataraja - Thanks. You're sweet.

    La Gitane - This is one of those poses that looks a lot easier than it is. Purvo is a super strong pose and it took me a while to build the strength in the hamstrings and lower legs to be able to press up without cramping. Now, of course, I love it and really relish the throat opening element and shoulder stretch.

    When I teach this pose, I usually start with two reps of tabletop for a breath or two each, then for the longer hold, I offer the same pose again or Purvottanasana for those wanting a bit more. I generally advise my students to choose tabletop unless all ten toes make contact with the floor when the legs are straight in Purvo.

  4. An interesting suggestion I had for cramping was to strongly externally rotate through the shoulder on same side. I'm strong enough to do this pose, but cramp always in right calf. After this suggestion I tried and it stopped. I need to rotate reasonably strongly, but at least I can stay in the pose. Works everytime!

  5. Love this! I've shared this with my trainees. Thank you!!