Deep forward fold asana.
Physical, Mental and Karmic Benefits
Increases circulation to the spine, flushes and tones the abdominal organs, soothes headache and calms the nervous system after intense backbend practices.
Introverts and relaxes the mind, induces a secure feeling of surrender, strong emotions and passions can subside with regular practice.
Accumulate the karma to actually get yourself into deep retreat by using the inner stillness you gain from this pose to teach others how to meditate or practice contemplative techniques.
Subtle Body Benefits
Induces spontaneous pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) by drawing the sense consciousness within, mildly stimulates svadishthana and manipura chakras.
Subtle Body Focus – Prana, Channels, Chakras, Bandhas
Kurmasana and all forward folds are facilitated by uddiyana bandha. This enables the fold to be very deep, as well as serving to draw the pranic energy into the central channel at both muladhara chakra when we simultaneously engage mulabandha and at manipura chakra when we engage uddiyana bandha.
Deep forward folding is introspective and allows a contemplative and calmed state of mind. Notice an enhanced ability to “let go” - particularly, of our pride, and fear of, or an unwillingness to give of ourselves, our possessions, and our time.
Outer Body Focus
It’s nice to do a forward fold practice later in the day as our bodies are a little warmer from having been moving about throughout the day, rather than first thing in the morning when we might feel a little tighter. Do several rounds of Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations, particularly focusing on standing forward fold - Uttanasana - and Child’s Pose - Balasana. Follow with some standing poses or some mild backbends to prepare and lubricate the body, followed by some gentle standing or supine twists.
Do several repetitions of Pashchimottanasana or Seated Forward Fold, gradually deepening to your perceived “edge.” The full expression of Kurmasana is a “full retreat” with the arms stretched out below the thighs or bound behind the low back, and the feet bound or crossed in front of the head or over the neck.
In the deepest of forward folds, as in the deepest of meditations and the deepest of retreats, the breath comes to a near standstill. Relax into this suspension, release and surrender into its perfect stillness.
Tips from Deep Retreat
In the larger context of retreat, removing oneself from the busy external stimulus of the world and retreating to a quiet place of isolation can add a profound boost to spiritual endeavours. These days the vast majority of us have such intensely busy lives that require us to be constantly “on” as we multi-task and deal with simultaneous commitments of family, work, friends and the rest.
Both the pose called Kurmasana and actually going into retreat can allow us the opportunity to access deeper places of quiet and stillness that are much harder to find when we are leading our usual busy lives, and the spiritual paybacks from these efforts can be huge. In fact, many people who have logged regular and sustained time in any yoga practice or in retreat time often say the benefits compound exponentially and that the results are difficult to measure or quantify, other than they report that it is the secret weapon, the rocket fuel that ignites us to a whole new level of practice.
Some markers or clues that retreat time and spiritual practice in general are benefiting us would be that we become more open, loving, tolerant, and kinder to all those around us. Join this to a heightened state of awareness of own own thoughts and a deeper consideration of others, throw in a general feeling of blissfulness and equanimity for all situations and you are probably on the right track.
Retreats can be anywhere from 2-3 days in length up to decades long. For most of us, doing shorter retreats with regularity is probably going to be the more viable option. Great leaps in spiritual practice are generally made by accruing countless small acts of endeavour, and are not necessarily achieved by doing prolonged retreats.
Understanding how reality works is the ultimate form of retreat because it enables us to work with every moment of our lives, so we are not just limited to the physical practice of Kurmasana or other asanas, or the sequestered confines of retreat, where the clarity of thought can unveil this process more readily. The very fabric of our existence is etched with every second that passes, and to have awareness of this process and how it affects our reality can catapult us to a place of transcendence of suffering very quickly. Exactly how this one key unlocks the secret to our reality, and how we can make it work for us will be the topic of next month’s article, so stay tuned.
Bow Pose - Dhanurasana - is the perfect counterpose to Kurmasana. Karma Yoga - the yoga of selfless action and service to others, is a perfect counterpose to being in solitary retreat.
Avoid Kurmasana if you have sciatica, spinal disc herniation or shoulder injury. Always follow the advice of a Teacher before attempting any length of retreat and before attempting Kurmasana for the first time.