The funny thing about challenges is that there's always something more challenging.
In the same way that you can see your glass half empty or half full, it's our choice on how we face what challenges us. Advanced yoga poses will be always be hard, so it's really up to us to shift our attitude or pack up our Lotus (or lack thereof) and go home. This week's challenge pose is hard. Period. You can choose to look at this pose and go, "Oh, hell no!" Or you can put a sly smile on your face and say yes to the challenge, knowing that you'll be growing and hitting all sorts of interesting bumps along the way.
I've provided plenty of links in this post, so you can twist this bad boy pose all the way up or use this time to brush up on getting into Lotus. No matter what level you're at—challenge yourself. It might be more mental than physical, but allow yourself to enjoy this ride. Yoga practice is meant to be enjoyed, so laugh at your flops and shine during your successes and always allow yourself room to grow.
This might be painfully obvious, but you must have a comfortable Lotus practice before you decide to twist it! Lotus can take years to develop in a safe and thoughtful manner, so continue your hip-opening practice until you can sit here in ease. Click here to review getting into your Lotus Pose.
In 3rd Series Ashtanga, Parsva Kukkutasana, or Side Rooster, is traditionally entered from a Tripod Headstand, so as you can imagine, it's time to get comfy with this pose as well! Come into Dolphin Pose with the crown of your head on the ground and your hands shoulder-width apart to form a 90-degree angle in the elbows. Walk your feet in and place your knees onto your upper arms. Hug yourself into a tiny little package. Lift your hips up as your thighs draw tight into your chest. Stay compact as possible to help your center of gravity. Every few breaths, remind yourself to lift the shoulders and keep the elbows in. Once the hips stack over the shoulders, the weight of the legs will lessen and the core will connect. Hook through the lower belly to lightly pull the knees off the arms into a Pike position in your chest. Keep the inner heels and big toes touching as the legs draw up toward the ceiling as if being sucked through a straw. Hug the inner thighs to the midline, expand through the backs of the kneecaps, and spread the toes.
Doing Lotus on the ground is one thing; doing it while balancing in on your head is a completely different experience. Just like seated Lotus, the headstand version can take time to develop. It's a good idea to practice hip openers in your Tripod to prepare—think Tree Pose, Bound Angle, or Flying Pigeon prep. Click here for a detailed breakdown on how to form Lotus in Headstand.
If you've made it this far, take a deep breath of accomplishment! This is like practicing a challenge pose inside of a challenge pose inside of a challenge pose! The next step is learning how to twist while keeping the base of your building solid. Once you have Lotus in your legs, recommit to your elbows staying over your wrists and your shoulders lifting away from your ears to create support. Begin to revolve your ribs toward the right arm by slightly dropping your left knee down and on the diagonal. Your right knee will elevate as the left descends. Practice this twisting motion several times and then rest. We're so accustomed to using our arms to help us twist and now we only have our core. You will get PLENTY of work by doing small twists side to side in the beginning. Be very aware of your shoulders—don't let the twisting action bring excessive weight into one side of your neck or shoulder.
One you're comfortable with twisting side to side and it gets deeper (think intense yet comfortable. You'll feel your psoas muscle engage but there should be NO PAIN), then it's time to land on your arm. Continue the twisting action from the previous step until you land your left knee onto your right arm. This will feel like a massive twist, but the goal is to land above your elbow. Don't worry about getting to your armpit—right above the actual elbow will do the trick. When your knee lands, engage your core and re-assess your shoulder situation: elbows in, shoulders up.
Now here's the fun part—time to lift if up! Start a huge rounding sensation in your upper back similar to what you feel in Crow Pose. Drop your hips as you lightly curl your fingertips into the mat to help pull your chest forward. Start to roll from the crown of your head toward your hairline. Once you can see the ground then it's safe to lift your head up (otherwise you'll feel major strain in your neck). Keep hugging all of your energy toward your midline keeping the forearms and elbows in. Once your head lifts off the ground give a mighty push of your hands and round of your back to lift your face entirely from the ground. Keep rounding the upper spine to help straighten the arms (don't worry how straight they go in the beginning, just focus on picking the pose up). Take a breath or 8 here and then slowly bend your elbows as they draw toward one another. Tuck your chin and come back onto the crown of your head. Pull your Lotus back to center and either relax or go directly into the second side. Take a well deserved vinyasa and Child's Pose when you're done.
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 MBG, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.