Thursday, March 21, 2013

lessons from leg behind the head

Eka pada sirsasana. In English: "one foot behind the head" or "leg behind head." This moniker has just about the same effect on me as the classification "monkey eating eagle," which is another name for the Philippine national bird. Like there's something I can't quite grasp about it. Like the neurons in my brain just can't quite connect to the information. And with eka pada, it's not just the neurons...

I'm not prone to delusions of grandeur, but I did have one particular day dream about this trip: that Mysore would have worked it's magic on my reluctant hips and that they would open enough to make eka pada sirsasana, the first of the leg behind the head postures in 2nd, possible. That Sharath's mere presence in the room would make them blossom open like a lotus flower on a hot spring day. That the right leg--which until right before the trip would precariously lean on my neck always on the brink of sliding off my sloping head, back, shoulder--would magically just ease itself down behind the head, so far down that the ankle would be leaning snugly against the left shoulder. Ha! One can dream!

There was a part (admittedly, a big part) that believed it would happen. I felt it was important to be optimistic. That part was vigilant, believing every practice day during the first month would be the day that Sharath would finally give me the thumbs up and move me on to dwi pada, an even more intimidating posture, double the trouble of eka pada, not because I thought I deserved it, but rather because I wanted to hurry though these terrible leg behind the head postures.

There was one moment during led intermediate when I thought I'd done a decent enough job. Sharath was there right in front of me. I look up at him, asking for approval. He half grimaces at me, head bobbing side to side in what I instinctively noted as a negative, and draws an invisible loop in the air with his index finger, which he swiftly swooshes towards the locker room, where I saunter off with my mat to finish. Ok, wise guy, I get it. I'm not ready for more!

I have a relationship with this pose. I have dreaded and looked forward to it. I have loved this pose. I have hated this pose. This pose is my junior high"frenemy", my elusive college crush that I secretly stalk down the hallways, my egoic bed-fellow that keeps me grossly in my body and at the same time schools me with incredible humility. Half the people I know in Mysore, skips asking me how I am and just goes straight into: "How's your eka pada today?"

It's been a year and three months in this one posture. Technically, I first received the pose from a certified teacher two and a half years ago but stopped working on it after my first trip to Mysore. With today being the last day of regular practice, I'm likely to be working on this pose through next season.  As I stew in this asana, I recognize that Sharath has never felt more like my teacher. And that, aside from back bending, no asana has instructed me more.

Eka pada is my brick wall. It isn't the first. It won't be the last. But it's the one I keep on banging my head against recently. In ashtanga, there's always a pose to challenge us, to take us to a new edge, that keeps us alert and alive in our practice.

Sharath is tough on eka pada. In led intermediate, that's obvious, as the lady's locker room fills up after the posture. He doesn't move people forward unless they can manage it without assistance--and it's rare to get help from him on this pose. The hip needs to open, the back needs to be strong, the neck uncompromised, the head up. He wants to see space and ease in it--and god knows I'll need it in the succeeding postures, each more intense than the last. I appreciate knowing that he'll move me when he sees that I am truly ready.

Before coming to Mysore this trip, I would often say that I was "stuck in eka pada." Now, in all honesty, though not apparent to outside eyes, I know I'm moving forward. Perhaps not physically, not in a way that satisfies Sharath's standards for the asana, but there is movement none the less. Probably the kind that's more important than moving forward in the series. This posture is transforming me. It is doing its job.

Eka pada has been an excellent mirror these last three months. It has reflected back to me my ego, my expectations, my fears and issues. It has forced me to be more patient with myself and with the practice. It has taught me how to respect my body and its limitations. It has shown me the strange little balance between ease and effort. It has inspired me to dig into my emotional body and has helped me confront some of the emotions that my body has been secretly housing. It has taught me how to slowly, slowly start to release tension. It has kindled an interest in anatomy (this I still I can't believe! I've always hated anatomy!) and the bodily mechanics involved in practice. It has shifted my attention from moving forward to really refining the poses that I already have, to honoring the little details and the small improvements. It has slowed me down enough so I can "smell the flowers" on the daily path of practice.

So, I'm just going to take this moment to love my limitations, to be grateful for the difficulties, for the challenges, for these tight little hips, which are slowly opening. Thank you for teaching me so much, so quickly. 


  1. I was stuck at eka pada for over a year too, and it was causing all sorts of problems (e.g., strained back and neck, strained sacrum, sore knees) while I was trying to make the pose "work" so that I can move on. It truly is the ego-deflating asana for me, and I learned how to just let it be, trusting that when the times comes and when I had cleared my body of emotional junk, the eka pada would happen.

  2. I hear you about the "emotional junk." it feels a little like peeling off layer after layer right now. the amazing thing is it does get better with practice and also the clearing of expectations, emotions. just being with it...

  3. Just curious... Did you break through the wall? Been in the same pose for almost a year... So wondering what happened.

  4. Just curious... Did you break through the wall? Been in the same pose for almost a year... So wondering what happened.

  5. I started with the ekapada process six months ago. It's been very painful and I've been suffering with a lowerback pain that has compromised my practice sometimes. Kapotasana and dropbacks became a nightmare all over again... looks like my toraxic is stiffer after ekapada. have you been feeling the same?

  6. I've been at ekapada for over two years. I think I was closer to it a year and a half ago. I've been injured in it twice, from overly strong adjustments. I've wanted to get past it for so long. I actually was doing it for a few short weeks. The rest of my practice is strong and balanced, why am I stuck here? Someday, I hope.