A great way to bring focus, mindfulness, and appreciation to your practice is to take notice of day-to-day differences. Am I tighter or more open today? Did I step into the pose with more or less control? Did I find my drishti quickly or slowly? Is my breath rhythmic or sporatic? Is my balance solid or precarious? These are all great questions to explore as you practice. Even when I’m not in tune with these differences or this dialog, balance poses will almost always help me tune in to the dynamics of daily practice. How well I slept the night before, how hydrated I am, the focus of my mind, and even the temperament of the weather can affect my balance.
Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana or Standing Splits is one of my favorite postures for exploring balance. My stability in this pose can vary greatly on a daily basis. Ideally, the standing leg is rooted and strong, uddiyana bandha is activated providing levity, the top leg is reaching and extending, and the heart is magnetically drawn to toward the shin. When all of these actions happen at once, the posture is solid, regal, and expansive. If any one aspect is compromised, the posture is unstable and tentative.
Happy hamstrings are a key component to Standing Splits. Working to create openness, will make this posture more accessible. Last week’s work in Down Dog can definitely help. In addition to focusing on hamstrings, work on these variations to cultivate a radiant urdhva prasarita ekapadasana practice.
Option 1 – Hands on Blocks. If hamstrings are tight, then hands on the blocks is a great way to find security as you play with the balance of this pose. Ground through the bottom foot and keep the leg as long as possible. If there’s an uncomfortable pull on the hamstring, add a slight knee bend. Lift the back leg, keeping it long and strong. It doesn’t matter how high the leg goes, concentrate on creating a long line of energy. Soften shoulders down the back and reach the heart in the direction of the shin. Over time, reduce reliance on the blocks, lessening the grip, and possibly coming to fingertips.
Option 2 – Hands on the Floor. As the hamstrings allow, bring the hands to the floor. Notice if this change creates tension in the shoulders. If needed come to the fingertips. For more challenge, work to bring the palms flat on the floor. Keep both legs active and reaching. Start to engage uddiyana bandha or an energetic lift through the belly.
Option 3 – One Hand to Ankle or Calf. When balance in this pose feels reliable, take on hand to the ankle or calf. Use this grip for leverage to pull the heart closer to the shin. The elbow can hug behind the knee. Keep the focus of the uddiyana bandha lift and the energy through the top foot.
Option 4 – Full Standing Splits. As you are ready, take the second hand to the ankle or calf. Continue to draw the heart to the shin as you take the drishti to the big toe of the standing foot. Work on creating one long line of energy from the standing foot through the top foot.
Another area of focus is whether the hips are open or closed. There’s not a right or wrong alignment for the hips, it really depends on to focus of your practice. For example, if you’re working toward inverted compass, you’ll probably want to work on the open-hip variation. Play with the two variations. You may notice that when you close the hips, the top log doesn’t go quite has high as when the hips are open. Explore and see which variation is more challenging, interesting, or satisfying for you.
Whatever aspects of this pose you refine this week, be sure to work where you feel challenged, but also where you can breath and relax around the work. Follow this weekly challenge @suzannewrightyoga on Instagram or at Suzanne Wright Yoga on Facebook. If you post your pictures or share about your experience be sure to tag #PowerPose and @suzannewrightyoga.
Stay tuned, because next week High Plank, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana will come together for our second peak pose.