How to Do Compass Pose (Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman sitting on yoga mat in compass pose
Verywell / Ben Goldtein

Also Known As: Revolved sundial pose

Targets: Hamstrings, hips, and shoulders

Level: Advanced

Yoga poses are typically considered advanced when they require a combination of "skills"—flexibility, strength, and balance, for instance—that it takes time and experience to build. Compass pose qualifies as an advanced pose by virtue of the extreme openness of hamstrings and shoulders that are necessary for the full expression of the movement. If you're not there yet, no worries. You can practice this pose with a bent leg as long as you take care to avoid rolling your weight to the back of your butt, which causes the spine to round forward.

As with most yoga poses, compass pose is typically incorporated into a series of poses, or a flow. While there's not a specific flow unique to compass pose, it's important that the selection of poses preceding compass helps warm you up and prepare your body for the extreme hamstring stretch. It's always a good idea to get warm with a series of sun salutations, then incorporate hamstring, hip, and shoulder-openers, including poses like standing crescent, lizard lunge, wide-legged standing forward folds, fire log pose, and gate pose.

Benefits

Compass is an excellent pose for more advanced yoga practitioners to continue to deepen hip, hamstring, and shoulder flexibility. Maintaining and increasing flexibility through the hips and hamstrings helps increase overall agility, making daily activities, like squatting down, easier to perform.

Also, because the pose requires an overhead reach and stretch through the obliques (commonly referred to as the "side body" in yoga), the pose helps strengthen and lengthen the stabilizing muscles of your spine, maintaining spinal mobility. Done regularly, the lengthening, strengthening, and stretching that takes place from your hamstrings to your shoulders can result in better overall posture and alignment. Ultimately, good posture and well-balanced alignment can help prevent injuries and pain, particularly of the low back.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Other than a yoga mat, you don't need any specific equipment to perform compass pose.

  1. Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position.
  2. Breathe in and bend your right knee, hugging it into your chest. You may leave your left leg bent or straighten it in front of you.
  3. Lift your right leg with your left hand. Thread your right arm underneath your right knee, bringing the right fingertips to the floor outside of your right hip. Breathe slowly and steadily as you focus on sitting tall, lengthening your spine and staying upright as you move into this position.
  4. Use your left hand to position your right knee as high up on the right arm as possible. The goal is to get the right knee to align behind the right shoulder with your right leg straight.
  5. Bring your left hand to the outside edge of your right foot. Begin to straighten your right leg as you stretch your left arm back behind your head.
  6. Look up toward your left arm, keeping your spine upright. Take three to five deep breaths here as you hold the pose.
  7. Release the pose carefully, exhaling as you guide your right leg back down slowly with your left hand before repeating to the other side.

Common Mistakes

Rolling Your Weight Backward to Achieve the Pose

It's a common mistake to try to "make room" to sneak your knee behind your shoulder by rolling your weight back onto your butt, causing your spine to round forward. This throws your body out of alignment and counteracts the positive impact the pose is designed to have on your posture and alignment. The mistake occurs when you haven't developed enough flexibility through your hamstring, hips, and shoulders. Back off of the pose and try something similar designed to improve hip and hamstring flexibility, like heron pose.

Forcing the Pose

It's good to challenge yourself during your yoga practice, but it's never a good idea to push your body past its current ability level. Forcing the pose—pushing past the feeling of a stretch to a feeling of pain or discomfort—is a good way to end up injured. When attempting the pose, push yourself to the point of a light stretch, but if you can't hold the stretch comfortably, you're going too far. Bend your knee or grab a yoga strap to modify the pose effectively.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Tight hamstrings may be the primary reason you can't move into compass pose. Try heron pose as a way to develop the hamstring flexibility that's similar to what's required for compass pose. Sit tall in a comfortable cross-legged position. Bring your left knee to your chest and grasp your left foot with both hands. Maintaining good posture, lean back slightly to sit tall as you simultaneously begin extending your left knee, pointing your foot toward the ceiling. The goal is to fully extend your knee, but only go as far as you can until you feel a stretch through your hamstring. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat.

Up for a Challenge?

Try standing compass pose as an even more advanced hamstring and hip opener. Start standing in mountain pose. Draw your right knee to your chest. Catch the outside of your right foot with your right hand to help guide your right knee under and behind your right shoulder. Maintaining good posture, grab your right foot with your left hand and release your right hand. Slowly extend your right knee, leaning slightly to the right to open your left side body and maintain balance. Hold for five breathes, then release and repeat to the opposite side.

Safety and Precautions

The main thing to remember about advanced yoga poses like compass pose is that it takes time and practice to find success. Progress slowly and give your body time to develop the flexibility necessary to achieve the full expression of the pose. Forcing your body past its current level of ability is a surefire way to end up injured. If you can't hold a stretch for longer than a second or so without it causing pain, you're pushing too far. Back off and use the modifications necessary to work your way up to the pose carefully.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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