Leg behind the head

Let me take you on a tour of Eka Pada Sirsasana

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By all appearances, the goal here is to place our foot behind our head. This action may inevitably occur, but by setting this as our chief intention, the yogi can become self-limited. In more extreme cases, straining of the cervical vertebrae may also occur, which negatively impacts our well being, that which we work day-in and day-out to cultivate.

As is the case with respect to most postures, it is best to approach Eka Pada Sirsasana in stages.  My first aim is to position my knee in back of my shoulder while lengthening my hamstrings.  Later, I work to close the gap between my waist and thigh, while drawing my femur back in its socket.  By doing so, your foot may spontaneously approach the back of your head.

After threading your shin behind your neck, the next stage of this elaborate dance is to apply counter force between one’s inactive leg and the opposite shoulder. I find that doing this allows me to go deeper into the posture, enabling my shoulder blade to resist the brunt of the pressure of my hip’s counter rotation. As a final touch, I point my foot and place my hands in anjali mudra for maximal expression.

If you are looking to entertain yourself, you can always attempt to place both legs behind your back.  In that case, I suspect that you will be quite pleased with the stability which a deep and methodical Eka Pada Sirsasana affords.  I simply ask that the yogi enter and exit this posture slowly, especially until he or she becomes accustomed the stages therein.  And be open to your own body’s unique pivots.

Namaste,

Bryan

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2 thoughts on “Leg behind the head

  1. hey bryan, this is a nice little pictorial – with excellent descriptions. it made me think about something I was learning this week in prasarita padottanasana – once you start getting your head to touch and then start working it more and more in line with your feet and hands – the flexibility of the hamstrings has to come first, then there is the stuff that goes on in the hip joint that allows your waist to fold into your hips and then also your very deep core muscles start engaging to keep your balance once a significant amount of weight is in your head and your head is getting more and more in line with your feet. I bet you could do a really good technical article on what is happening in prasarita padottansana, and how it relates to eka pada (and dwi, really) sirsasana. mine our just intuitive thoughts. also, I have long felt like marichyasana A & B were related to eka pada sirasana – especially the initial stage you describe – stretching the hamstring to get the knee behind the shoulder. what do you think about that? finally – something I just learned this week – I was told that I should be doing drop backs since I am doing all of primary now. I was told that drop backs are the extreme stretch complement to dwi pada sirsasana – and that since I am not doing drop backs yet, to back up (haha) and work on them, and then return to working on dwi pada. any thoughts?

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    1. Drop backs are an integral part of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method. I find this to be true especially in Sharath’s classes, where students are expected to drop back right after completing second series. As you’ve said, learning drop backs typically occurs after “mastering” primary series, in preparation for second series. This expectation sometimes implies that a teacher won’t allow student’s to advance to second series without lifting out of a drop back, yet many so called orthodox teachers will be agreeable to let students start working on the early stages (i.e. Pashasana through Kapotasana) with assistance in drop backs. Assisting a student to help him/her engage with all these postures that their own level was the method in which Pattabhi Jois originally espoused, and the tradition continues. My recent experience in NYC has shown me that Sharath was willing to help students do drop backs, but doing so independently did seem like a criterion for attending the next day’s session. Sharath has multiple standards for advancement, yet, it would be exceptional if one were able to achieve every one of them with flying colors. In fact, after watching NYC participants practice, from the back of the room, nearly everyone in this elite second series cohort broke down on day 1 at korandevasana. The message here is that, it’s really great to set goals, but actually being able excel at all things Ashtanga is rarer than I previously imagined. I find that I continue to progress with my own practice, yet my goals have become increasingly subtle. The subtleties teach me a thing or two about describing the pivots of posture. For instance, I don’t actually consider drop backs as a counter posture to Dwi Pada Sirsasana. My rationale is that succeeding in a drop back has a lot to do with one’s upper back arching, rather than the lower back, which tends to bend slightly forward in Dwi Pada. For me, the most pronounced upper spine forward fold is Baddha Konasana B. But I don’t think most people want to hear that drop backs are of complementary merit to the aforementioned posture. It is intuitive to compare one fancy pose against another, as if each is equal in merit. But I know that this line of thinking can be limited. My thoughts are that one might as well start practicing drop backs against walls, etc, long before the crossing of the legs behind the back and neck. Therefore, in my opinion, supplementing extra back bending asanas during closing sequence is a good option for anyone who’s made it through at least three quarters of primary series, in preparation for eventual drop backs.

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