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Working with Hips can bring intense feelings on both the emotional and physical ends of the spectrum. Sometimes the emotional stuff is harder to work with than the physical stretching and strengthening. Ken says practicing gratitude while working on the hip opening necessary for leg-behind-the-head postures helps you learn to accept and appreciate your body and heal the negative thoughts that get in the way of your happiness.
Putting your legs behind the head may be one of the most exotic movements in the whole yoga practice. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know that it is also one of the most challenging. Not only are you met with the flexibility of your hips and lower back, but you can often wake up emotional demons sleeping in the darkness of the pelvis.
This sequence is built to open your hips enough to work toward Foot-Behind-the-Head-Pose (Eka Pada Sirsasana).
Chakra Yoga is also called Laya Yoga. Chanting according to the neutral, up and down notes matters.
FROM 1ST-10TH OF THE MONTH
Here we focus on forward bends which help to open the hips. There are 35 asanas.
We practice Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), Kurmasana and more.
Before you even think about doing Eka Pada Sirsasana, you should maintain a well-rounded practice for many months. This is true even for practitioners who begin yoga with enough flexibility to perform Eka Pada Sirsasana or who may achieve it fairly quickly. Flexibility is necessary, of course, but strength, stability, and integrating your whole body within the pose are just as important.
Kino says that In fact, I often tell my students that it is more difficult to be flexible than to be stiff. An expression that says, “Oh, sure,” usually crosses the faces of the stiff ones. All they know is that when they stretch, they are really uncomfortable, and they don’t move anywhere nearly as much as their more flexible classmates, who seem to slide into many poses with such ease. Those more flexible (and seemingly more fortunate) students have the difficult task, however, of trying to find balance in their poses without constantly overworking the areas that move so readily. Super-flexibility, without the balance of strength, can result in instability in the joints—which, in time, can lead to pain and injury. I have found over the years that loose, very flexible students seem to have physical problems more often and of a more serious nature than stiffer students. So maintaining a balanced practice for a prolonged period is valuable not only for building up to Eka Pada Sirsasana; it also allows you to practice the pose in a safe way.
Despite all my caveats about the need to balance flexibility with strength, you clearly do need flexibility in your legs and hips to do Eka Pada Sirsasana. It is usually best, therefore, to practice this pose as the culmination of a series of forward bends and hip openers. To avoid overstretching your spine and straining your lower back in any forward bend, it is important to lengthen your hamstrings and fold forward from your hip joints rather than bending at the waist. Ek Pada Sirsasana may not appear to be much of a forward bend since you do not lower your torso forward toward your legs. But all the principles of forward bends apply; you are simply varying the forward-bending process by bringing your leg up toward (and beyond) your torso instead of bending your torso down.
You can develop the flexibility required to work productively on Eka Pada Sirsasana, Padangusthasana ( Reclining Hand to big toe pose) by practicing the Yoga for Balance Class inspired by B.K.S. Iyenger on sun, tues, thurs from 04.00PM ~ 05.00 PM. Proficency in Kurmasana is must before attempting this Asana
- REGULAR YOGI
FROM 11th to 20th OF THE MONTH
We practice Hip openers asanas about 40 of them.
Even if you’ve realized that strength is as important as flexibility for a balanced body, you may be surprised to learn that strength is necessary for Eka Pada Sirsasana. The pressure that the leg exerts is powerful, and needs to be balanced by the strength of the neck and back muscles. Sirsasana (Headstand), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), and their variations are especially helpful in strengthening your neck and back. Akarna Dhanurasana (Archer’s Pose) is also a particularly good preparation for Eka Pada Sirsasana, not only because it increases mobility in the hips and legs, but also because it helps build strength in the spinal muscles.
In order to avoid straining your back muscles and to provide support for your spine, you may find it helpful to begin to work on Eka Pada Sirsasana in a reclining position at first. Lie on your back with your knees bent and resting comfortably near your chest. Allow your left knee to remain in that position and take your right arm inside your right thigh. Wrap your right forearm behind your right calf and catch the outer arch of your foot. Then reach across your body and catch the inner arch of your right foot with your left hand. Your bent left knee should remain comfortably near your chest. Hold your right foot with both hands and raise it until your lower leg is perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your shin perpendicular, draw your right knee down toward the floor. Maximize the opening of the hip by staying centered on your back without rolling toward the right as you bring your right knee toward or, ideally, onto the floor. Then, while you keep your right knee on the floor (or moving in that direction), lengthen the back of your right thigh from the back of your knee toward your buttock and move your buttock and hip away from your abdomen and waist, respectively. As you do this, you should feel your sacrum release toward the floor.
Perform the same stretch on the left side and repeat the process on both sides one or more times. You should use this same incremental, repetitive approach as you continue to work toward Eka Pada Sirsasana. Like all forward bends, it is essentially a pose of surrender. Rather than forcing the necessary actions and movements, be patient and wait for any edge of tightness or resistance you encounter to soften and release. Keep your diaphragm relaxed, your belly soft, and your breathing easy throughout.
Once you’ve got your right knee as near the floor as possible without rolling toward the right, continue holding your right foot with your left hand and shift your right hand to your calf. Press your hand into your calf and push your lower leg and foot toward your shoulder enough that you can tuck your shoulder under your leg. (At this point, you might be up against any number of edges: in your right hamstring, hip, back, shoulder—or any combination of these.)
Remain with the back of your knee and thigh against your right shoulder for several breaths. If the intensity begins to shift to pain, release the position and repeat on the other side. If and when the intensity begins to abate, go on to the next step. Practice each step this way to bring deep awareness to your edges and expand them safely and effectively.
Now with your left hand still in the arch of your right foot, again press your calf with your right hand and lengthen the calf from the knee out through the heel. Draw your foot toward the floor, gradually bringing your leg toward a more nearly straight position. At the same time, once again lengthen your hamstring from the knee toward the buttock and roll your buttock toward the floor. Stay centered on your back. The stretch this gives your hamstring will help with the movements to come.
After exploring your hamstring edge, bring your shin back up to perpendicular and change your grip to hold your outer lower leg with your right hand and your outer ankle with your left hand. Keeping your right shoulder tucked beneath your knee and thigh, externally rotate your right thigh and pull your right ankle toward your ajna chakra (your “third eye” near the center of your forehead, just above your eyebrows). Avoid pulling the little-toe side of your foot toward the floor. If you pull on the foot rather than the leg, you are apt to bend and overstretch your outer ankle. The movement of your leg should come primarily from your hip. Keep externally rotating the thigh and move your right hip away from the right waist as you bring your foot as close to your face as possible. From the leg-over-shoulder position, begin to lift your foot toward your sahasrara chakra (at the crown of your head) until your foot is above your head. Raise your head from the floor and pull your foot behind your head until your ankle is pressing into the back of your head. When you raise your head and move your foot, take care not to grip your abdominal muscles. It is possible to cramp those muscles, which can be a not-so-sweet discomfort. If that happens, lie back and relax for a few minutes until the cramp subsides. Once your ankle is behind your head, take a few breaths. Reconnoiter. Do what you need to do to respect your edges. Don’t panic. Don’t get greedy. If you can go on, do so; if not, repeat the same actions on the left side.
If you’re ready to go on, press your head back into your ankle until your knee is no longer pressing your shoulder and, turning your chest to the left for a moment, tuck your right shoulder still farther under the leg. Then press your calf with your right thumb so it rolls backwards out of the way of your shoulder and pull the leg down so that your lower leg just above your ankle is behind your neck. Keep your inner ankle extended so that the inner and outer ankle are balanced.
You are likely to need to hold your ankle and lower leg with your hands for a while—seconds, days, weeks—to relieve some of the pressure that the leg exerts on your neck and to keep the leg from slipping from behind your head. As your hips loosen, your hamstrings stretch, your back lengthens, and your neck strengthens over time, you’ll be able to slide your leg well into the curve of your neck. Then, if you lift your chin slightly, you will be able to hold the leg with your neck and let go with your hands.
When you can do that, bring your palms together in front of your chest in namaste position and stretch your left leg straight up toward the ceiling. You’ll be in what might be called Supta Eka Pada Sirsasana (Reclining Foot-behind-the-Head Pose) or, perhaps, Urdhva Mukha Eka Pada Sirsasana (Upward-Facing Foot-behind-the-Head Pose).
- COMMITTED YOGI
FROM 21st TO 30th OF THE MONTH
In this series, we start off with a passive stretch where you practice cultivating a grateful mindset while remaining equanimous in the face of discomfort. We practice almost 50 asanas over 10 days and see our progress towards the peak pose which is Ek Pada Sirsasana.
Then, the sequence builds heat through active postures that give you access to the inner space of the pelvis. Even though you may have played your edges well and are able to do an “advanced” asana, you have hardly reached the end. Although we sometimes use the term “final pose” to describe the shape of a particular asana, there are really no final poses. New edges appear, both within Eka Pada Sirsasana and in the expansion of possibilities of other asanas. For instance, once you have become more accomplished in Eka Pada Sirsasana, there are many challenging poses you can work on that incorporate putting your leg behind your neck.
Furthermore, as subtle and difficult as playing the physical edge is when practicing Eka Pada Sirsasana (or any asana, for that matter), it is complicated by the fact that we have lots of different edges: physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual. You may seem to be playing your physical edge in your practice quite skillfully and yet be way off base with respect to your appropriate energetic edge. I see this in some overly ambitious students who push themselves constantly to do more difficult, demanding poses—and more and more repetitions of them. They may be achieving the physical movements of the poses, but at the same time they are irritating their nervous systems and compromising their mental and emotional equilibrium.
“I might suggest to such a student that he consider de-emphasizing his physical edge for a while and refocus his attention on the quality of his breath and his state of mind. This would give him a chance to consolidate his practice and find a more subtle internal edge, rather than constantly forcing himself further physically. I find that students sometimes strongly resist such a suggestion, either openly or passively. It is often difficult—and really quite enlightening—to realize that playing your edge may occasionally mean not doing advanced poses. This realization can have a transformative effect on your practice by shifting you away from an acquisitive and perhaps aggressive approach toward a more internally perceptive and holistic attitude. You may become more interested in playing the edges of consciousness than performing wowie-zowie advanced poses. Ironically, advanced poses may then come more readily, like guests who are invited to dinner rather than employees who are ordered to attend”.
Every spiritual tradition employs the art of playing the edge of consciousness; each has its own methods and disciplines. Whatever techniques you use, bringing yourself to your perceived limits is a way to deepen your understanding of who you are and how you approach the world. And when you rub up against your limits and work to expand them, you can generate a powerful shift in your consciousness. The altered states of consciousness that playing your edges induces can pry you out of stuck places and open up creative energies previously unavailable to you. And they can move you beyond the edges of your small self and bring you into contact with the limitless, edgeless Beyond.
Finally you will articulate the external rotation of your hip joint to move toward putting your leg behind your head for Eka Pada Sirsasana.