Yogadandasana- Asana Highlight
Caught mid-scratch! Sometime there’s an itch you can only get with your foot in your armpit, eka pada yogadandasana.
Surprisingly, yogadandasana is a bit easier to do than it looks and is incredibly useful for lengthening the external rotators of the hip, muscles of the low back.
Did you know you can also use this pose to shift the svara (flow) between nadis (channels)? Traditional yogis might use a yogic staff (yoga danda) to shift this flow and images of Shiva often show him resting his arm on one.
Two of these channels (nadis) correspond with each nostril and are connected to the left and right hemispheres of the body and brain. This is depicted in Vedic thought as the two poles of creation, which in yoga are known as the solar (right) and lunar (left); ha and tha.
Interestingly, the right brain is powered by the left nostril channel, while the left brain from the right channel. Yogic texts encourage us to discern our svara regularly and act accordingly because breathing through a particular nostril is said to lead to success in action.
Reflecting on svara throughout the day and in relation to our practices opens a world of intriguing correlations than can enhance our practice and the actions of our daily life.
Which nostril are you breathing out of right now? When you do different activities? When you feel like you’re having trouble being analytical? When you’re eating a meal or digesting? When your practicing asana? How about meditating?
Fundamentally we need to lengthen the hip external rotators quite deeply to achieve this asana; however we also need a good degree of strength and flexibility in our spine and supporting muscles to enter, hold, and exit.
- First try the tree pose, vrksasana and see how comfortable that feels on the hips and spine. If it’s a challenge, work here until it’s easy entering and exiting the pose actively, without support of your hands. As always, make sure you practice on both sides!
- Second, from a standing position try bending your right knee and set your right ankle above your left knee, so that the legs are in a figure-four or pigeon, kapota position, with the right knee outward. If you feel stable you can practice standing upright balanced on the left leg for a few breathes, then gently bend the left knee and fold forward. This could be called ardha kapota uttanasana. Repeat on the second side.
Practicing these movements while standing can be more challenging; however it solicits a more active lengthening or supporting of the primary muscles involved. This becomes important once we are seated because it’s easier to route around some of these challenges if they happen to present themselves.
- Next we can move to the floor into a low lunge, anjaneyasana to lengthen the front of the hip. And then into lizard, utthan pristhasana, to lengthen the spine as well as the backside of the hip. In the lizard pose it’s useful to explore different variations related to this position of the body in space. For example, with the right leg forward and bent, left leg straight back from the hip with knee lifted, we can stay, or set the back knee down. We could then side-step the right foot towards the edge of the mat to set the right forearm down beneath the right shoulder and then perhaps the left forearm. From there we could rotate the right foot outward, to the right, in correspondence with the direction the knee is bending; lift the inner edge of the right foot while grounding down into the outer edge, allowing the right knee to gravitate outward and downward towards the floor. Keep the right foot flexed, toes drawn towards the knee. You’ll notice this position is very similar to leg-behind-the-head, eka pada sirsasana. One could entertain that notion further by moving the right hip further away from the right heel creating a greater distance between them, continuing to lengthen the spine and eventually setting the forehead on the floor. Repeat all modifications done on the first side on the second.
And finally, we can consider entering yogadandasana.
- From a seated position, dandasana, one could recreate the figure-four shape with the right leg, then bend the left knee and flatten the foot. Continue by lengthening the spine, staying, or work to close the distance between the torso and legs bringing the chest to the right shin, upavistha kaptoasana. If that is comfortable, then you can reach your right hand upward staying braced with the left hand behind the left hip. Draw the right arm diagonally across the midline of the body, to the left, into a deep twist. Stay with right arm braced against left leg or reach the right hand to the left foot, grasping with the right thumb between the left big and index toes. Rotate the neck and gaze behind you, parivrtta upavistha kapotasana. If all of these components are suitable, you’ll notice that your foot is already in your armpit! Repeat all modifications on the second side or continue.
Pending your comfort and easefulness in the position described above you can then rotate your gaze forward, release your right hand, internally rotate your right should and grasp your right knee. Continue pressing your right foot into right shoulder, depressing right shoulder into foot and move the right knee to the floor while maintaining the foot/shoulder connection. Set the left wrist on the left knee, arm straight, palm facing upwards or away from you. Left shoulder is externally rotated and depressed, gaze toward left wrist or bhrumadhya in eka pada yogadandasana. Repeat on second side.
Variations of Yogadandasana
If eka pada yogadandasana is truly comfortable and you need something more to trap your attention we would recommend first straightening the left leg and folding forward, eka pada yogadanda paschimottansana. Then perhaps sit up, set hands down beneath shoulders and lift your hips and left leg while keeping the right foot and shoulder connected, eka pada yogadanda bhujasana. From there balance on your hips, lift your left leg and hold your left heel with one or both of your hands, eka pada yogadanda navasana. Then try bringing the left knee over the left shoulder, release the right hand from the knee and with palms beneath shoulders lift up into an arm balance, straightening the left leg with the right foot firmly pressed into the shoulder eka pada yogadanda tittibhasana.
Still not enough?
Bring the left leg back and lift as high as you can while balancing on your hands, eka pada yogadanda koundinyasana . Want more? Try these balances on your elbows, kurpara eka pada yogadandasana; or left side plank with right foot in the armpit, eka pada yogadanda vasisthasana; or standing upright on your left leg, urdhva eka pada yogadandasana. Then there’s always shoulderstand with foot in the armpit, eka pada yogadanda sarvangasana. Still not enough? Explore balancing on one hand, eka bhuja eka pada yogadandasana. And finally (though there are quite a few more!)? Balance on your head and bring your hands together in front of your heart, niralamba eka pada yogadanda sirsasana. Repeat all modifications on second side.
Of course, these examples are extremely challenging variations; however they serve to highlight the modern need for increased complexity to trap our attention. Our attention is what we are practicing to hone, control and unite, between the forces of our Will and the forces of Nature, to realize the essence of our Being. Many of us will be quite well served with the initial recommendations and they will trap our attention and challenge us effectively. However, once mastered there are numerous ways we can think about developing our physical practice in line with yogic goals and the method of approach.
- Vrksasana (Tree)
- Ardha Kapota Uttanasana (Standing Figure-four fold)
- Anjaneyasana (Kneeling Lunge)
- Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard)
- Upavistha Kaptoasana. (Seated Pigeon)
- Yogadandasana (Yogic Staff)
Practicing advanced asanas certainly can be fun and rewarding. Make sure you only go as far as you’re comfortable and capable. There are many subtleties and considerations to each of these asana variations. If you have any questions or are interested in investigating these topics of practice more thoroughly, please reach out and contact us through the website, consider individual consultations or our ongoing weekly asana practices.