Eka Pada Sirsasana

The practice of Eka Pada Sirsasana (as with many of the deep, forward bending asanas) can be difficult and challenging. Besides the physical requirements of the pose, the student must demonstrate some maturity and some degree of discriminative discernment (vivekakhyatih) so as to approach the practice of these asanas intelligently. And this pose can be particularly challenging as we age, due to the accumulative wear and tear of life and the toll that this takes on our bones and joints. As we age degenerative changes can occur in the intervertebral discs of the spine, along with some degenerative changes in the cartilage of the hips and knees, etc. Given this, a certain mind (a sattvic mind) has to be developed by the practitioner so that the practice of these poses is truly Sattvic and non-harmful in nature. A well-established practice of, and firm foundation in, the standing asanas is essential, beginning the process of "sattvasizing" the body, mind and senses of perception. The practice of these poses both stabilize and mobilize the body (and mind) and begin the process of developing awareness and sensitivity in the practitioner. As Geeta Iyengar writes: "a practitioner of yoga needs both qualities-mobility and stability, the inspiration to proceed and the adhesiveness to establish oneself". And one needs to be able to perceive and do simultaneously. In other words, the effort to do the pose cannot overwhelm one's ability to perceive what is happening in one's vehicle. Developing maturity in the standing asanas is where the student begins to work on these very important principles.

The lateral standing asanas are very helpful for cultivating this stable-mobility or mobile stability, especially when one learns how to open the hips, pelvis and lower spine without destabilizing them. As the feet and legs are developed, the relationship between them and the lower portions of the spine is established. The student learns the importance of keeping the femoral heads well connected into the sockets of the hips, which helps create a stable freedom in the hips and lower back. The standing forward bending asanas along with the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana variations further develop the necessary stability and mobility as well as a sattvic steadfastness necessary for true progress. And the practice of the revolved standing asanas can be very helpful with developing further the qualities mentioned thus far. These poses, particularly Parivtta Parsvakonasana and Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana and Parivrtta Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, require that the student simultaneously stabilize, mobilize and integrate the actions of the feet and legs with the lower and upper portions and the spine and shoulder girdle.

The seated asanas and seated forward extending asanas cultivate even greater freedom in the hips, groin, buttocks and spine. Though the effort to stand and balance is lessened, one learns to maintain the alertness and intelligence in the lower portions of the body that the standing asanas necessitated. These poses help pacify the nervous system, further cultivating the relaxed state of alertness that is indicative of a sattvic mind.

The seated lateral twisting asanas and revolved forward extending asanas further develop the necessary stable range of motion, significantly liberating the hips, lateral buttocks, and lower and upper portions of the spine required for Eka Pada Sirsasana. And the Supta Padangusthasana cycle, especially Supta Padaguthasana III, along with Akarna Dhanurasana, Eka hasta Bhujasana, Dwi hasta Bhujasana, Bhujapidsasana, Malasana, and Kurmasana, all bring us very close to the shape and action required by Eka Pada Sirsasana.

The inverted asanas are also important, not only to stabilize the mind, but to help strengthen the upper portions of the spine and neck. These asanas must be strong before attempting to practice Eka Pada Sirsasana, as the weight of the leg can put a lot of pressure on the neck. Some students will be helped more by emphasizing a certain group of asanas and other students by yet another, so having different approaches helps keep our awareness and approach alert and dynamic. "Mobility is dynamic awareness whereas stability without mobility will lead to stagnation".

The concepts of stability and mobility that I have been focusing on are the subject of the Yoga Rahasya article that I have been quoting in this essay. Geetaji examines these concepts and links them to Patanjali and the concepts of Abhyasa and Vairagya. She writes on Sutra I.12: "He (Patanjali) instructs us to have the abhyasa, to practice, and also to develop vairagya, the desirelessness. We think that he has given us two methods, abhyasa and vairagya. But abhyasa indicates mobility and vairagya stability. It is a perfect combination or chemistry of stability and mobility".