Most of us spend the lion’s share of our days sitting in chairs, with our joints in flexion. Our hips are flexed to 90 degrees, as are our knees. Our shoulders hunch forward—unless we constantly remind ourselves not to hunch. By the time I shut down my computer in the evening, my body craves at least a few minutes of the opposite.
One of my favorite poses for countering the effects of sitting, as well as preparing my body to wind down for sleep, is Supta Virasana. Supta Virasana is the lying-down version of Virasana, aka “Hero’s Pose.” Supta Virasana expands the front body (the abdomen, quadriceps and lower legs), promotes relaxation and digestion, and can alleviate menstrual cramps. Plus, you don’t have to wait two hours after dinner to practice it. Supta Virasana is one of the handful of poses that are fine to practice with a satiated stomach.
Not everyone—or rather, not everyone’s knees—can practice Supta Virasana, however. Unless you practice this pose regularly, it’s important to warm up to it by practicing Ardha Virasana and Virasana.
If you can practice both these poses safely, without any discomfort in your knees, you may be ready to practice Supta Virasana. If you need to place a block or bolster under your hips in order to keep your knees happy in Virasana or Ardha Supta Baddhakonasana, practice the latter two poses instead.
Another alternative, if your knees are unable to bend into Virasana, is to practice Supta Baddhakonasana. It confers many of the same benefits of Supta Virasana, without the possible knee strain. Both Supta Virasana and Supta Baddhakonasana can promote healthy digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps. Both are restorative. Supta Baddhakonasana is hands-down my yoga students’ favorite restorative pose.
How to Practice Supta Virasana
- Gather your props: nonskid yoga mat, Standard Bolster, blanket (optional), block (optional)
- Set up your props: Lay your mat out flat on the floor and place your bolster lengthwise on your mat.
- Kneel on your yoga mat, just in front of your bolster, with your knees hips-width apart or narrower and your feet pointing straight back. Place your palms on your calf muscles, fingers pointing toward your knees, and press the muscles into the bones.
- As you begin to sit back, draw your hands back toward your feet so that they don’t get stuck! Release your hands. If your hips do not easily sit on the floor, place a block under your pelvis.
- If you have a block under your pelvis—and your knees are completely comfortable—stay here for 5 to 10 breaths before coming out of the pose and making a transition to Downward-Facing Dog Pose to straighten your knees.
- If your hips easily rest on the floor in Virasana, place your hands next to your hips, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor and extend your tailbone gently toward your knees.
- Lie back onto your bolster. Rest your arms a comfortable distance from your sides, at a 45-degree or wider angle. Relax. Stay as long as you like. When you’re ready to come out of the pose, draw your arms in close to your body and push yourself up to sitting.
- As you feel ready, move to Downward-Facing Dog Pose to straighten your knees. Move slowly and carefully, letting your knees straighten gradually.
- If at any point, your knees start to complain, please come out of the pose immediately.
- Extra treat: Many people—including me—enjoy head support in this pose. Try placing a folded blanket under your head and neck.