Tortoise Pose (Kurmasana)

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Tortoise Pose, Kurmasana, (Ker-Mas-an-AH)

Kurma (turtle/tortoise) + asana (pose)

Also Known as: Turtle Pose

Pose Type: Stretching, Seated

Difficulty: Advanced

a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing tortoise pose

Release, surrender and turn inward with Tortoise Pose

Tortoise Pose Fundamentals

Tortoise Pose is a deep leg opening pose that is often a part of Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Hatha yoga.

It requires open hips, thighs, and hamstrings and is generally recommended for intermediate to advanced practitioners.

This asana was first depicted in illustrations from the 7th century. It was also mentioned in the 7th-century text Ahirbudnya Samhita, and was later described in other texts such as the Yoga Pradipika.

The modern Iyengar Yoga manuals associate Tortoise Pose with Lord Vishnu’s tortoise incarnation.

It is also connected to the animal itself, as when they enter the shape, students appear as a tortoise retreating to its shell.

This retreat has a spiritual connotation – Tortoise Pose is seen as a fantastic opportunity for Pratyahara, one of the principles of yoga which refers to the withdrawal of the senses.

By focusing on your inner world, you can learn to overcome distractions that come from outside and to respond consciously and intentionally rather than simply reacting to things.

In his book Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar also discussed the physical benefits of this pose, saying that it can calm the nervous system, improve one’s energy and activate the spine and abdominal organs.

By releasing tension from the body and encouraging you to turn inward, this pose may bring a deep sense of physical and mental relaxation.

Finally, being quite a difficult pose, Kurmasana can teach you to listen to your body and react to its daily changes.

It’s completely natural our bodies are more open on some days and tighter the others, so try to accept your limitations and practice with compassion towards yourself.

Tortoise Pose Benefits

  • Opens and lengthens the thighs, hamstrings, hips, shoulders, back, and chest.
  • Prepares the body for other asanas which require advanced flexibility.
  • Inspires you to turn your attention inward, which helps you to better understand yourself and to release your mind from mental clutter and overthinking.
  • Massages the stomach, which can stimulate the internal organs, especially the digestive organs, kidneys, and liver. This helps to detoxify these organs and keep them healthy.
  • May reduce sciatica and lower back pain.
  • Improves circulation, particularly to your head and brain, which is another way how it calms the mind.
  • It opens the chest, which also influences your diaphragm and lungs, helping you to take deeper breaths.
an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing tortoise pose

How To Do Tortoise Pose: Step-By-Step

How To Get There:

1. Begin sitting on your mat, with your back straight and your legs stretched in front of you. Flex your feet and push your thighs into the ground.

2. Now spread your legs, so they are a bit more than shoulder-width apart. You can adjust this as you go along with the pose.

3. Slightly bend your knees and bring your feet closer to your body.

4. Place your arms on the floor between your legs.

5. Now, begin to lean your torso forward, and simultaneously slide your arms beneath the knees to the sides, keeping the palms on the floor. Keep your arms straight.

6. Continue bringing your upper body towards the floor, and try to touch the chin to the ground – without rounding the spine too much.

7. Once you reach the final point with your upper body and arms, you can straighten out your legs. Still keep your feet flexed.

8. Gaze to the front or close your eyes. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths, or at least 30 seconds.

9. Slowly release.

Tips And Tricks:

  • Tortoise Pose is an advanced pose and should be done later in the practice. Make sure you warm up with sun salutations and other poses which open the back, legs, hips, and shoulders.
  • Although this pose is reserved for advanced students, you can still prepare for it with similar stretches, such as Bow Pose and Seated Forward Bends.
  • It would be best to learn this asana under supervision to make sure you’re performing it with proper alignment.
  • Don’t force it – if you feel any pain or discomfort, avoid the pose or decrease the stretch.
  • If you are rounding the spine, you can place a folded blanket underneath the hips.

Tortoise Pose Variations:

Half Tortoise Pose

a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing half tortoise pose

Half-Tortoise Pose, also known as Ardha Kurmasana is an easier version of the full expression of the pose. You’ll still get a fantastic stretch in your back, shoulders, and spine

For this variation, you will begin in a kneeling position with the knees and feet touching. Raise your arms overhead, and try to touch your ears with your upper arms.

Keeping your arms stretched, begin to lower your torso towards the ground. Place the hands and forehead on the ground. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then release.

Modified Tortoise Pose

Although it is an advanced asana, there are many modifications you can use to still attempt Tortoise Pose safely as a beginner.

For example, you can keep the feet on the floor and keep the knees bent. This will slightly shift the stretch, as you will feel it more in the inner thighs than hamstrings, but you will feel a similar sensation in your hips and upper body. 

You can also keep your head above the ground or support your chest with a yoga block instead of going all the way down to your chin. 

Reclining Tortoise Pose

a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing reclining tortoise pose

If you are able to practice Tortoise Pose and want an additional challenge, you can try Reclining Tortoise Pose or Supta Kurmasana.

This asana is even more intense, as you will place the feet behind the head. 

To perform this variation, begin in regular Tortoise Pose, and place the forehead on the floor instead of the chin. 

Now lift the left foot and place the leg across the neck, and perform the same step with the other leg. Then, move your arms behind the back and clasp your palms. Hold for as long as comfortable. 

Precautions & Contraindications:

Common misalignments

Pushing the knees into the floor. If you lock your knees, you might feel pain, and it may even lead to injury. Instead, flex the feet to encourage activation in the leg muscles, and always leave the knees slightly bent. 

Exiting too fast. Exit the pose slowly and with just as much awareness as when you’re entering it. First, bend your knees, then slowly release the arms, and finally (slowly) lift your torso. 

Injuries and Pain

If you feel pain, tingling, or a pinching sensation in the back, shoulders knees or legs, release it immediately. Avoid the pose altogether if you’ve undergone back surgery, or have injuries in the hips and back. Pregnant women should also refrain from this asana as it involves pressing the abdomen into the floor. 

Related Poses

Seated Forward Bend

Firefly Pose

Inverted Tortoise Pose

Preparatory Poses:

Bound Side Angle Pose 

Sage Marichi Pose I 

Standing Forward Bend

Counter Poses:

Fish Pose

Wheel Pose

Bow Pose

yogajala break 1000 × 40 px 1

For more in-depth asana resources, check out our free Yoga Pose Library. Here you’ll find complete guides to each and every yoga asana to deepen your yoga knowledge.

Each pose page features high-quality photos, anatomy insights, tips and tricks, pose instructions and queues, asana variations, and preparatory and counter poses.

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Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

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