Friday, June 25, 2010

Hello, Psoas! And other impossible things you did today

When I started to think about Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, One-legged King Pigeon, it was one of those 'impossible' poses.

My body has a lot of issues with this pose, the main ones being: the length of my quadriceps (not long enough lol!) and hip flexors, side and shoulder muscles (longer armpits would be nice...) and bendiness in my lower back.  My scoliosis mostly affects the lumbar area, and on one side I have hugely built up muscles, while the other side is a bit convex.  Yoga helps a lot to balance it, but the imbalance really comes out when I attempt deep backbends that require more flexibility in the lumbar spine, so my backbends in this area are much easier on one side than the other.  The entire pigeon set of backbends, to me, seems like a pipe dream.  And yet, with slow and hard work, I AM making progress although I am nowhere yet near the final pose!

Anyway, in the spirit of doing as many impossible things as you can before breakfast, I've been working with a sequence that includes another of those 'impossible' poses - hanumanasana, or splits pose.  Another pose that I thought I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION  YEARS be able to achieve... And yet, a few months ago out of the blue I slipped into it almost without trying (now it's hit and miss depending on how warmed up I am... and it's actually easier when I'm not trying).  Go figure.

Like some others involved in this discussion on Nadine Fawell's blog, I have been finding that my primary series Ashtanga-based practice just does not open up these areas enough for me.  So here is a sequence that I have been enjoying lately.  To practice it, you will need two blocks (or sturdy books) and a strap.  You might also want to put some extra padding under your knees for the lunges!  Although some of the poses in this sequence might look a bit advanced, with the use of props I think it's accessible to everyone.  Just respect your limits and remember, as I read in the blogsphere recently: "Yoga is a practice, not a perfect!"

1. Warm ups - start with your favourite warm ups, making sure you really warm up your hamstrings and your lower back.  5 sun salutations should just about do it, but any warm up works.

2. Lunges

a) Find your way into a low lunge, placing padding under the back knee if you need it.  Now, place the two blocks either side of the forward foot.  Press your hands into the blocks and lift up through the spine, opening the chest and shoulders.  Extend from the back knee, keeping it active and feeling a nice stretch the length of your back thigh.

b) Bring the blocks up so they are standing at their tallest, and walk them back a bit.  Using your hands to ground into the blocks and keeping the legs strong, extend the spine upwards from the pelvis and curl backwards.  This is called Monkey Lunge! If you are comfortable you can even release the hands and let your fingertips brush the floor.

c) Coming back to lunge, ground the forward (in this case the left) hand on the block and gently lift your right lower leg, catching the foot with the hand or using the yoga strap.  Keep the right thigh engaged slightly to protect your knee, and gently pull the right foot closer to your body for a nice, deep stretch.

3. Hanumanasana

a) To prepare for splits pose, from lunge turn your left toes back towards you to straighten the left leg, and take a gentle forward bend to stretch out the hamstring.

 b) Place your hands on the blocks and start to slide your left foot forward. Keep the heel on the ground and the toes flexed towards you.  Support your weight on the blocks as much as possible and focus on your breath.  When you have found a comfortable extension, focus back in on the right leg, lengthening it away from your body and feeling the hip flexor stretch! Don't worry about how far you can go - just breathe and be where you are with this one.

3. Kapotasana Poses

Warm up with your normal variation of supine pigeon, folding forward and staying there for as long as you like.  When you are ready, come back up for some pigeon variations and backbending work.

a) (NB I switched legs on this picture so you can see the pose better).  Support your weight by pressing your hand into a block placed outside your forward knee.  Then bend the back knee and gently bring the back foot up towards your body, grabbing it with your hand, or elbow if you choose.  Keep the thigh muscles engaged slightly and try to enjoy deep breaths here.

b) A nice way to get used to the idea of backbending is to use a yoga strap.  Loop the strap around the back foot (right foot again in the photos!) and bring the forward end over your shoulder on the same side.  Get comfortable in pigeon, and when your ready grab the strap with one or both hands.  Lengthen the spine from the waist, open up the chest, and start to curl back by walking your hands down the strap.  Again, don't worry how far you can or can't go! Just focus on breathing fully and exploring new sensations.

c) Now try coming back into the first variation with the strap looped around your ankle, and play with catching the strap and bending backwards! (NB: this is a hard one to get into on the 10-second self-photo timer, so I haven't quite come fully into the backbend, opening up the chest and bringing the head back.  But you get the idea!)

4. Finish up after you've done both sides with a nice long forward bend to counter the back-bending, and then take savasana or any other resting pose.

I hope you enjoy some or all of these ideas! What are poses that you used to think impossible that you are now working towards?  What is your experience in King Pigeon? Any tips for me?


  1. Your pigeon is like mine. I cannot see a day when my head touches my foot, but some people make it look so easy!!

    This is a lovely sequence, definitely going to try it.

  2. very cool sequence. i have similar 'impossible!' thoughts as you did- but this sequence (except for the splits lol) looks completely doable. I don't think my back will bend as much as second picture- but supported is a fantastic idea.

    thank you!

  3. @Lila - Thanks for visiting and commenting!

    @Rachel - It's funny because I can do backbends, but when it comes to pigeon, it all just cramps up. One side is far worse than the other... But I enjoy the feeling of working on it and I think that's what counts. I'm not attached to the result! I accept and love my body just as it is. :)

    @Eco - it's totally do-able! The blocks help a LOT with the lunges and give you lots of support to bend back if you want to try it - you don't have to go very far to get that wonderful feeling of excitement. You can walk the blocks as far back as you need to to keep up the support - it's a lot of fun this way!

  4. You are beautiful, love! And so, so graceful! :)

  5. @Babs and @YifY - awwwwww, thanks gals! :)

  6. well this is just the inspiration I am after! i love pigeon, but as far as the splits goes.. that's my 'impossible' pose. Here's to possibilities, yes! Day by day.. xxx

  7. Thank you for a great inspiration!
    Keep up the good work!

  8. This looks great. I need to get some props :) ... I've gone too long without them. I looked up the pose -- wasn't sure what it was -- and it does look challenging! I'm still working on handstand and crow and side crow myself ... I think it is funny how one day they'll come more easily and the next they're so hard to get.

    Question you might be able to answer. When I attempt to do crow, sometimes the backs of my arms and knees slide against each other and I lose my balance. Is there anything I can do to help keep my knees firm against the backs of my arms, or is this a matter of practice

  9. I love the way you've broken this down into manageable steps. I admire your persistance in working towards your goals. I'm working on the upper body strength for the headstand variations myself. Still trying to find a way to get Emily to like yoga; Scott loves it, though. Go figure!

  10. @ Shiny - it's great how different bodies have different challenges! It's all about the process though, not really about the poses.

    @Sue - thanks for stopping by!

    @Juliana - props are fabulous. I bet your handy husband could make you some blocks out of a nice soft wood... And straps can be made from anything! As for crow, what helped me was to place my knees slightly OUTSIDE my upper arms (as high as possible!) and squeeze in. Try it on the ground first and then slowly creep up to tiptoes and then lift up from your core strength. The first time a teacher got me to do it that way was a revelation. It brings it back to core strength to keep your balance, not relying so much on the your knees to "stick" to your arms.

    @Auntie Cheryl - Thanks for commenting on my blog!! I actually find that headstand is much more about core strength than upper body - when you can engage your core to help with your balance, it takes a lot of the burden off your arms/shoulders to support you. It's great that Scott loves yoga! But he is very physical anyway. Emily may come around to it on her own, but it's certainly something that makes you feel your physical limitations or insecurities more acutely before helping them to go away. That can be a major turn-off. And, sometimes a parent 'wanting' you to like something is enough not to like it, on principle! Janis has finally admitted that she enjoys it but resisted it for years, partly because mom and I wanted her to do it so much LOL!

  11. Great sequence and such gorgeous photos! This is definitely one of my "impossibles" - thanks for the inspiration.