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Eka Pada Sirsasana (Foot-behind-the-Head Pose)

Try your hand at this pose to increase flexibility in the legs, spine, and hips.

By John Schumacher

Getting a Leg Up

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.

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Excellent post. So detailed and insightful. Thank you! Namaste.

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