Supta kurmasana is an advanced yoga pose requiring great flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles. The name comes from the Sanskrit supta, meaning “sleeping,” kurma, meaning “turtle” or “tortoise,” andasana, meaning “pose” or “posture.”
Begin by sitting on the floor with the knees bent. One leg is lifted and the same elbow reaches through. Then the lifted leg is hoisted over the shoulder. The head is tucked under the foot while nudging the shoulder deeper into the knee crease. The same thing is done with the other leg, then the ankles are hooked on top of one another behind the head. The body bends forward until the head is on the floor. Arms reach around and back until the hands reach to clasp together.
The common English name for this pose is sleeping tortoise pose.
Supta kurmasana is one of the deepest poses of the Ashtanga yoga primary series. Although it might be very challenging to perform at first, in time this pose becomes a very meditative and comfortable position.
As the Ashtanga yoga guide, “Yoga Mala,” explains, “supta kurmasana purifies the kanda. It also purifies the heart and lungs, and eliminates ailments caused by imbalances of the kapha dosha.” The kanda is the hub where the spinal cord exits the spine and from which all 72,000 nadis (channels of energy which closely relate to our nervous system) originate. And according to Ayurveda, the kapha dosha is one of the three bodily humors that govern all structures and lubrication in the mind and body.
There are other methods of entering into supta kurmasana, but they require a fair amount more of flexibility in the hips. It is recommended that beginners practice with an experienced teacher who can assist with entering into this pose.