Kathryn Budig says the key to this pose is learning to think a bit differently about flight.
This is one of the first "fancy" arm balances I learned to do back when I was chomping at the bit for new challenging poses. My teacher at the time used to teach Eka Pada Koundinyasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II) so gracefully that I knew it had to be part of my practice. For what felt like a small eternity, I could get my leg onto my arm, painstakingly straighten it, then the hop dance would begin--I'd bounce my back leg like Tigger riding a prayer in hope that it would someday stay elevated in the air.
This is when I was only thinking in terms of up and down. Remember as you practice this pose that, yes, the back leg will go up, but the heart offers itself forward to give the back leg leverage in contrast. The back leg once lifted doesn't stay put on it's own--it's your commitment and energy that turns it into a wing as opposed to that dead fish it normally feels like. So expand your perspective--there is no such thing as just up and down--there is always an extension. Nothing just hangs out--it radiates. And frustration won't get you further, but laughter mixed with commitment will take you wherever you need to go.
Start in Downward-Facing Dog. Lift the right leg up into the air and externally rotate it open from the hip socket--the toes spin out, heel in. Flex the foot. This action will make the left hip want to jut out, so make an extra effort to firm the outer left him in to stabilize the pelvis. Keep the right leg straight and rotated as you start to cut the leg through the air parallel to the ground. For now, keep the shoulders in Down Dog, simply focusing on the hip movement. Return the leg to its starting position and repeat this action 5 times, inhaling as you rotate, exhaling as you extend the leg.
If you need a break after the five rounds from Step 1, take one. Otherwise, march on! From the extension, bend your right knee and shift your shoulders directly over the heels of the hands. Keep the arms straight and the upper back rounding. Lightly place the bent knee above the right elbow and hold for one to five breaths. Be aware to keep the pelvis open. It's easy to place just the front of the kneecap on the arm, neutralizing the hips. Since you want to keep the hips open, take the inner part of the knee to the right arm. (It will make sense by the time you get to Step 4.)
From Step 2, keep the inner knee on the arm above the elbow and bend the elbows into a full Chaturanga--elbows above wrists, forearms hug in, shoulder heads lifted, and gaze slightly forward. Keep the ball of the back foot on the ground and stay calm. Take five strong breaths and step back to Child's Pose. OR if you're still feeling OK ...
Keep the gaze extending, dig the fingertips into the ground and begin to isometrically pull through the hands. As the heart extends forward, the rear leg will begin to lighten and lift. Extend the front leg straight (this will require a ton of hip flexor and hamstring engagement--don't say I didn't warn you) and straighten the back leg with huge enthusiasm. Spread both sets of toes to keep the line of energy active. Be careful to not let left shoulder drop--keep the shoulder heads even and the gaze straight forward. Hold for a few breaths and step back or swing the front leg back to meet the left. Take a vinyasa and repeat the entire sequence on the left side.
ABOUT KATHRYN BUDIG
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and author of Rodale’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or on her website.