Kurmasana (tortoise pose) is an intense forward fold that shuts out sensory distractions and quiets the nervous system. Kurmasana, according to B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga, “tones the spine, activates the abdominal organs, and keeps one energetic and healthy.”

Of course, these great effects are possible only if you have enough flexibility in your hips, shoulders, and back to practice the pose safely. So proceed slowly and deliberately, paying attention to your breath and alignment. Notice how you feel as you move through each preparatory pose and be prepared to stop anywhere along the way.

Photos 1-2 -Legs bent, back of thighs on the seat of the chair, this is a good place to begin understanding the forward bend intensity. Start with hands on the floor and then begin to reach your arms back and grab the back legs of the chair.

Photos 3-7 – With 1 chair for the back of the thighs and 1 chair supporting each of the lower legs and feet, you’re able to experiment with the beginning of the full pose. Explore how far the legs can extend and how far the arms can reach back under your legs.
Hold each variation without discomfort for at least 20 breaths before moving to the next level.

Photo 8 – Try the pose on the floor using the belts to reach the arms further back under your legs.

Photo 9-11 – Continue using the ropes for the arms in the same way as photo 8. Adding 2 ropes and a stick, place the feet on the stick and learn how to fully extend your legs. Adduct and inwardly rotate your thighs with full attention to those actions.

Photo 12 – By now your arms understand the work so you can let go of the ropes to extend the arms. Your legs have also understood the full extension, adduction and inner rotation it takes to be comfortable in this pose. This means you can now add some height under the feet like foam blocks or regular blocks to begin extending and lifting the legs even more. Once you can actually lift the legs in this way you can then start working on Supta Kurmasana.

Photos 13-15 – Now you can try the full pose. Start on the floor with legs bent and bring the arms as far back under the top thighs. As you reach the arms out to the sides and back, fully extend the legs remembering to adduct the legs as close to each other as you can and inwardly rotate the femurs. Finally, extend the legs fully until your heels come off the floor.

Prepared and demonstrated by Donna Read
Donna would like to express gratitude to her teacher, Hart Lazer and to his teachers for their inspiration and wisdom.