How to do Tortoise Pose (Kurmasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Kurmasana Tortoise pose

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Kurmasana

Targets: Legs, hips, and back

Level: Intermediate

Tortoise Pose (Kurmasana) is an intermediate/advanced pose performed mostly in Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga. It deeply stretches the legs, especially the thighs and hamstrings. Due to the nature of the deep stretching involved in Tortoise Pose, previous experience with flexibility is recommended.

Kurmasana is named after an animal that retreats into its shell when threatened or alarmed.

Because of the shape you take when performing Tortoise Pose, it is believed that you will experience the physical benefits of stretching and the mental benefits of focusing on your inner world.

This sensation of drowning out the distractions of the physical world is known as Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses.

This pose is a great way to invoke relaxation. It may be especially beneficial for people to perform after a long, stressful day. This pose has the unique ability to relax both the body and mind, so it can be used for physical or mental stress relief.
Due to the advanced stretching involved, this yoga pose should follow other leg-stretching yoga poses. Preparation for this yoga pose may include light stretching of the legs, back, and shoulders as well as hip-openers. No equipment is required for Tortoise Pose.

Benefits

Deep stretching poses like Tortoise Pose are beneficial for building the flexibility necessary for other yoga poses. You will feel the stretch the deepest in your thighs and hamstrings, though your hips, back, shoulders, and chest will also open up. Despite the body being in a state of flexing and stretching, your upper body relaxes onto the lower body and invokes total body relaxation.

Like many yoga poses with mental health benefits, the benefits of Tortoise Pose are not strictly limited to the physical body. As you release the pressure of supporting the upper body, you may experience a withdrawal of the senses. This is when your focus shifts from the external world to the internal world. 

Tortoise Pose diverts your gaze low to the ground and on what’s in front of you. As your sight is less likely to be cluttered with distractions, your mind follows suit and you may feel more clear-headed.

With its unique combination of mental and physical health benefits, Tortoise Pose may appeal to people with stressors of all kinds. The opening up of the upper body may appeal to people with physically demanding lifestyles while the opening up of the mind may appeal to those with busy minds.

Many advanced stretching poses require enough flexibility to practice proper form. It may take a lot of stretching and routine practice to master this pose and experience the benefits. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Tortoise Pose is often performed on a yoga mat, though you can also practice on a soft surface such as a carpeted floor. No equipment is necessary, but a yoga strap may come in handy for beginners who need help with stretching. A yoga towel may also be preferred to wipe away sweat after a yoga class.

1. Start in a seated position. Your back should be upright, and your legs should be extended in front of you. Flex your feet so your toes are pointed to the ceiling. Press your thighs into the ground.

2. Spread your legs further than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly off the ground no more than a couple of inches. This should bring your feet closer to you as you draw your body inward.

3. Put your arms in front of you, keeping them in-between your legs. 

4. Bend your torso slowly. As you lean forward, slide each of your arms out to the side with palms facing down. Your arms should naturally slide underneath your slightly raised knees. Keep your elbows locked and arms low to the ground.

5. Bring your chest and head forward, opening your shoulders as you draw your upper body closer to your lower body. Continue lowering your head until your chin touches the ground.

6. Once your arms are spread on both sides and your head is fully lowered, straighten out your legs. Your knees should no longer be bent, though your feet should still be in a flexed position.

7. Extend your gaze ahead of you as you draw inward. Relax and take deep breaths. Focus on your thighs pressing down on your arms, which should invoke a sense of comfort and relaxation. 

9. Allow your thoughts to shift from the external world to your internal world. Let go of pressure, tension, and stress — both physically and mentally. Hold the pose for approximately 30 seconds while taking gentle breaths.

10. To release the pose safely, bend your knees and lift from the upper body. Draw your arms to your sides and hinge at the torso.

Common Mistakes

Proper form is of utmost importance in all yoga poses. When stretching is involved, be especially mindful of preventing injury or straining. Extra caution is needed to avoid straining the back of your knees in Tortoise Pose. Your back and spine are also in vulnerable positions in this yoga pose, so additional stretching may be needed following Kurmasana.

Prepare for this pose with preparatory poses

This pose is for people at the intermediate or advanced levels. However, people of all experiences should prepare for this pose with other poses that stretch and open the targeted body parts, especially the legs and back. Try to perform this pose in the middle of your sequence. Some preparatory poses include Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) and Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

Bringing the knees down into the floor

In yoga, it is sometimes required to draw certain body parts, such as your core, into the yoga mat. Avoid doing this with your knees in this pose. Many people experience pain or stiffness in the back of the knee area in this pose by locking their knees in place and drawing it down. Your feet should be flexed, which encourages stretching in the legs, though you should not feel pain. To prevent this, straighten your legs slowly as you enter into the pose.

Release the pose safely

Coming out of an intermediate or advanced yoga pose requires nearly as much effort as getting into the pose. In the case of Tortoise Pose, releasing the pose unsafely puts the back and hips at risk. Start to release the pose by bending your knees and raising them to a point that allows you to retract your arms. Once your arms are free, you can lift your torso and return to a seated position.

Perform follow up poses

Though Tortoise Pose is intended to relax the back and spine, additional stretching may be required to ensure that all tension is released. In this pose, the back is stretched forwards. Use this as an opportunity to follow up with poses that stretch the back in another direction to truly encourage motility and openness. Some follow up poses that stretch the back backward include Fish Pose (Matsyasana) and Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana).

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Though it is considered an intermediate pose, even some more advanced yogis struggle with yoga poses like Kurmasana that require flexibility in the hips and hamstrings. For beginners, try improving your flexibility through regular stretching and poses that can lead up to Kurmasana.
If you can’t enter the full pose with your chin on the ground and legs extended, then enter a modified pose with your head above the ground and knees bent.
Another modified Tortoise Pose doesn’t require you to extend and straighten your legs. Instead, keep your feet together and knees bent as demonstrated by Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana). This will shift the stretch to your inner thighs rather than hamstrings, but it is a great starting point and will still open up your hips and back.
You can also ease into the pose with a yoga block. Use a yoga block to hoist your chest up rather than leaning fully into the stretch. With regular practice, you may be able to work your way up to the full Tortoise Pose without modifications.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you’ve mastered Tortoise Pose, try some of these techniques to challenge yourself. Once you’re in the full stretch, reach your hands around your back. Even if your fingers don’t touch, this makes the pose slightly more challenging. Another way to challenge yourself is to wrap your feet together above your head.
An advanced pose that will challenge you further is Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana). This is an advanced arm balance pose where both legs are rested on top of the back of the arms and extended in front of your body. Firefly Pose will also strengthen your core and shoulders. 

Safety and Precautions

If you experience pain in your back, knees, or legs during this pose, release it safely.

Do not do Tortoise Pose after back surgery because it elongates and stretches the spine. Check with your doctor to see how long after surgery you can perform this pose. People with back and hip injuries should abstain from placing pressure on these body parts.

Pregnant women should not perform this pose as your stomach may be pressed against the floor.

Try It Out

Incorporate this pose into one of these popular workouts:

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