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YogaJournal.com is challenging you to get in the season’s thankful state of mind with gratitude-geared practices all month long. Share yours and tag #yjgratitudechallenge.
Putting your leg behind your head may be one of the most exotic movements in the whole yoga practice. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know that it is also one of the most challenging. Not only are you met with the flexibility of your hips and lower back, but you can often wake up emotional demons sleeping in the darkness of the pelvis.
Working with the hips can bring up intense feelings on both the emotional and physical ends of the spectrum. Sometimes the emotional stuff is harder to work with than the physical stretching and strengthening. Practicing gratitude while working on the hip opening necessary for leg-behind-the-head postures helps you learn to accept and appreciate your body and heal the negative thoughts that get in the way of your happiness.
In this series, we start off with a passive stretch where you practice cultivating a grateful mindset while remaining equanimous in the face of discomfort. Then, the sequence builds heat through active postures that give you access to the inner space of the pelvis. Finally you will articulate the external rotation of your hip joint to move toward putting your leg behind your head for Eka Pada Sirsasana.
Pigeon Pose A
Come into Pigeon Pose. Hold this passive posture for between 10 to 50 breaths. Think peaceful, accepting thoughts about yourself. Square your hips forward and avoid torquing your pelvis to compensate for lack of flexibility. If you feel pressure on your knees, then elevate your hips on a bolster. Focus on dropping your point of awareness into the inner space of the pelvis.
Pigeon Pose B
For the B variation, walk your hands and torso away from your front knee on a diagonal. Reach your chest forward then settle in and hold for 10 to 50 breaths.
Same as before: Think peaceful, accepting thoughts about yourself. Square your hips forward and avoid torquing your pelvis to compensate for lack of flexibility. If you feel pressure on your knees, then elevate your hips on a bolster. Focus on dropping your point of awareness into the inner space of the pelvis.
Marichyasana A (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi, I)
Internally rotate both shoulders while reaching your torso forward. Pull back with equal force on the hip joint of the bent leg, letting your sitting bone lift. Focus on moving your torso away from your thigh. Hold for at least 5 breaths. Jump back and jump through to switch sides.
Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose)
Wrap your leg around your arm as close to your shoulder as possible and come into Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose). Use your core to support your pelvis and engage your legs by pulling the heads of the femurs into their sockets. Stay here for 5 breaths, then jump back directly to Chaturanga Dandasana. This posture builds the strength to support your body through getting your leg behind your head.
Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose)
Start off in a comfortable seated position with both legs bent. Grab hold of your right foot with both hands and lift it up while pulling the head of the femur into the socket. Suck your lower belly in and spiral your torso around your thigh. Stay here for 5 breaths, repeat on the left side, and then jump back.
Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise)
Start off in Samasthiti (Mountain Pose). Bend your right knee in toward your chest. Reach your right hand under your knees and thread your left hand behind your back. Clasp your hands together as you ground down through your standing leg. Once you feel the balance extend your bent leg by engaging your quadriceps. Pull your chest through. Stay here for 5 breaths. Then repeat on the left side.
Eka Pada Sirsasana (Foot-Behind-the-Head Pose)
Starting off in seated position, hook your right leg around your right shoulder, same as in the prep for Astavakrasana. Drop your knee out to the side and move through a deep external rotation like in Pigeon. Engage the muscles of your back and maintain that like in Compass. Slide your torso forward of your thigh like in Marchyasana A. Then place your leg behind your head while shifting your shoulders forward. Place your hands in prayer and turn your gaze up.
About Kino MacGregor
Kino MacGregor is a self-professed Handstand lover (just check out her Instagrams). She’s also a Pattabhi Jois-certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher who travels worldwide, author of three books, featured in six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, and co-founder of Miami Life Center, where she and her husband Tim Feldmann are based.