For my first posture breakdown I'm going to tackle my least favorite arm balance of all time: Eka Pada Galavasana--Flying Pigeon Pose. Why start with my least favorite? Because it's important to do things you don't always enjoy!
To oversimplify Eka Pada Galavasana, it's equal parts Pigeon and Chaturanga. This posture requires very open hips, active arms, and a rounded spine. Hand balances come pretty easily for me due to my strength, however, my tight hips typically hold me back on this one. Here's a few postures that are essential when preparing for Eka Pada Galavasana.
Modified Eka Pada Rajakapotasana--Crooked Pigeon
Begin in Half Pigeon Pose but rather than folding forward over the front shin walk your hands about 45 degrees away from the front knee (i.e. if the right shin is forward walk your hands left). Your palms can stay down, but if available release your forearms down. Let this be an active posture. Press your palms or forearms into the floor, round through your spine, and press your hips in the opposite direction of your arms (i.e. if right shin is forward press your hips back and right). The movement of the hips back and to the side will intensify the stretch in your outer hip. Stay here for at least ten breaths.
Eka Pada Utkatasana--Figure Four with Hand Press
Start in Utkatasana and cross one ankle over the opposite thigh to set up Figure Four. Once in the posture sink your hips down and back and actively push through your standing heel. Begin to hinge forward a bit to intensify the hip stretch. To get even deeper press your hand into the lifted foot (i.e. press your left hand into your right foot). Let the pressure be equal parts foot into hand and hand into foot. To help stabilize yourself it can be helpful to place one hand on the floor if accessible or on a block as pictured. Hold for ten breaths.
Gomukhasana--Cow Face Pose
From a seated position cross your legs at your knees, draw your feet just to the outside of your hips, and connect your sitting bones onto your mat. This posture is not always the most accessible for all students so it can be helpful to sit on the front edge of a yoga block to get the knees closer. The posture can be done upright or you can hinge forward from your hips. Press both sitting bones equally into your mat or block. To take it one step further, if you're hinged forward, actively press your palms into the floor and dome your spine as you push back. Indulge and hold for a few minutes.
Modified Ardha Pawanmuktasana--Half Wind Relieving Pose
This variation helps to stretch and lengthen the hip flexors and psoas while engaging the glutes and hamstrings of the extended leg. Place a block under your sacrum at its lowest height. Extend your left leg long on your mat and pull your right knee toward your right armpit. There's a good chance the extended leg will lift off your mat, but push through your heel and try to get your heel to your mat. Keep the leg active. You want the same length and engagement with the extension of the back leg in Eka Pada Galavasana. Hold for a few breaths on each side.
Chaturanga--High to Low Plank
Since Eka Pada Galavasana is one part Pigeon and one part Chaturanga, it's important to work Chaturanga into the prep process. When working this pose focus specifically on the heads of your shoulders in relationship to your elbows. Depth isn't the goal here. Keep the heads of your shoulders slightly higher than the tips of your elbows. As you lower down draw your navel toward your spine and energize your heels back to engage the muscles in your legs. To alleviate pressure in the shoulders or wrists simply lower to your knees.
Time to Fly!
Two blocks can be extremely helpful when trying Eka Pada Galavasana, especially if you're a fellow member of the Short Arm Club or if you have tight hips. But heads up that the blocks bring you farther away from the ground and that can amp up the fear factor.
- From Figure Four hinge forward until you can place your hands on your mat or on your blocks.
- Once you have a solid foundation bend your elbows straight back a la Chaturanga.
- It seems like a minor detail, but hook your lifted toes around the outside of your opposite tricep (i.e. hook right toes around your left tricep).
- With your shin resting on your arm, begin to tip weight forward into your hands.
- Keep your gaze in front of you.
- Round through your upper spine.
- If you feel stable there try to pick up your back foot and pull your heel up to your hips.
- When you're ready to take it further extend your back leg up and back. This final part is typically the trickiest.
- Hug your abdominals toward your spine, continue to gaze forward, and do your best to keep equal pressure in both hands.
- Do all of those things and remember to breathe! There's a lot going on in this posture, but help yourself out and continue to breathe.
Remember, your practice and you are more than just your ability or inability to move into a specific shape. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey of your practice. Never take yourself too serious and remember to laugh a little. A stumble or fall will probably bruise your ego more than your body. Also, face plants are an essential part of the practice. Enjoy it!!