8.15.2010

Asana of the Week: Eka Pada Galavasana


This week's asana is Eka Pada Galavasana, also known as flying pigeon or flying crow. It's one of my favorite arm balances because, in addition to the empowering sensation of taking flight that comes with balancing on the hands, it's also a delicious hip opener.

We practiced Eka Pada Galavasana in the class I attended this morning, then I was asked to teach it today during YTT. I love this pose, but I received many looks of resentment and bewilderment as I attempted to teach it to the group of trainees. Most of them wouldn't bother with trying to float the back leg... I looked up from my demonstration to see a bunch of people dangling their hands over their shin in a sad looking one-legged chair. I pleaded, "If you are not going to try to float the back leg, AT LEAST ground the hands and try shifting your weight forward..."

No response, and these are strong, capable yogis and yoginis we're talking about here. Granted, we had been practicing poses for a few hours by that point, but it was disheartening to see such a lack of enthusiasm from my peers, particularly since this pose, like many arm balances, is not really about the arm strength. Yes, you need strong shoulders and hands, but the trick to Eka Pada Galavasana is securing the shin across the upper arms to be used as a lever: on the right side, hook the right foot tightly behind and around the left upper arm, then snuggle the right knee way up into the right armpit. Keep the right foot flexed around the left arm, bend the elbows, press the right shin into the arm bones, and your hips will lift to the sky. If your left foot hovers off the floor, try extending it up and back. Easy peasy. Just make sure your hips are warm before you try it, and please, for Pete's sake, protect your knees with an active foot and stable position of the lower leg against the upper arms.

DO NOT try this if you have knee issues. One sweaty practice several weeks ago, I cranked my knee badly in this pose. I was slick with sweat, and my lower leg slipped down my arms as I began to lift into Eka Pada Galavasana. My knee made a horrifying succession of crunching noises, and has been a little strange ever since. Be careful.

Here's a strong sequence that prepares the hips nicely for flying pigeon. Play with balance, have fun, and be nice to your knees!
  1. Garudasana (Eagle Pose) - Begin with the right leg crossed over the left leg and the right arm crossed under the left arm.
  2. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3 w/ Garudasana arms)
  3. Eka Pada Utkatasana (One-legged Chair Pose)
  4. Ardha Baddha Padmotasana (Half Lotus Forward Fold)
  5. Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying pigeon) - Bend the left knee, plant the hands a few inches forward of your shoulders, and hook the right foot around your left upper arm, as near to the armpit as possible. Keep the foot flexed, and tuck the right knee tightly into your right armpit. Press the right shin into the upper arms, bend the elbows, bring the weight forward into your hands and play with floating the left foot from the floor.
  6. Vinyasa
  7. Repeat 1-6 on the opposite side.

10 comments:

  1. Ohhhh We call this 'flying squirrel' LOL I like it, but often have problems achieving 'lift off' with the back leg. My problem is usually with the lower foot, which digs uncomfortably into my tricep when I hook it around the arm. And often I'm trying to do this asana in a hot class so there's a lot of slipping and sliding.

    But I would have at least tried it, had I been in your YTT class. I really did LOL the "arms hanging down in sad looking chairs" sentence. Great visual!

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  2. Shizz - Flying squirrel, eh? Haven't heard that one before. As for the foot digging into your tricep, try to hook the foot higher up on the arm, just below the shoulder if you can. That should take the direct pressure of the ankle off the tricep.

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  3. Ooooh, nice! I have never been able to get any lift in this one, but after reading this I will give it another go!

    For me, arm balances are the toughest things to teach, because you never know what baggage people are bringing to them. I personally had a lot of fear and insecurity to work through before I found confidence 'flying'. Be compassionate with your students, even when they are your fellow trainees! We all have our nemesis poses. :)

    Another trick is to lead students into a pose without giving away what the end pose is. So nobody can build up anticipation of the final pose. Then you just pop it out - surprise! Sometimes more people go for it that way. ;)

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  4. La Gitane - I love it when teachers guide me into a pose without revealing the path. That's actually how I came to try this pose for the first time, with no prior knowledge and no warning of the balancing to come. I surprised myself. Hopefully, I can do that for my students.

    Of course you're right that I need to be patient and have compassion for my students, even if they are my fellow trainees. I know arm balancing can be scary, but I've been a little disappointed with the training program in general, and I think I may have been projecting that onto my peers. Must be mindful.

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  5. Ooh that's a fun pose I hadn't tried before - thanks for sharing it!

    I just gave it a go and it doesn't seem too terribly difficult, but I can certainly see hesitating to try it if I was really tired or had arm balance blockages as many folks do.

    A great thing about arm balances I've found is that once I got very comfortable doing bakasana, most of the rest become pretty accessible. I guess a corollary might be that if someone is hesitant in bakasana, they'll definitely be intimidated by the others.

    Thanks again - great blog.

    Adam (found you from Michelle Myhre's Devil Wears Prana blog)

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  6. Hey love,

    Please do drop by Devil Wears Prana. I have something for you.
    http://yogawithmichelle.blogspot.com/
    xo Michelle

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  7. Adam - Thanks for commenting! I completely agree that bakasana is a "gateway" arm balance. Once bakasana gets comfortable, the rest of the arm balances just seem to come. Bakasana forces one to come to terms with the possibility of the face plant. Personally, I find the fear of smashing my face on the mat to be an excellent motivator. ;)

    Michelle - I saw! Thank you so much. It's in the sidebar. I'll do my best to pass it along.

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  8. I LOVE this pose and am teaching it this afternoon. I also find that folks are unwilling to try to float the back leg. Thanks for the sequence - I may borrow it!

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  9. My back leg slightly lifts off the ground. What muscules do I need to active to get the leg to float up? Also when teaching this pose where do you support the student so that they dont fear floating the leg up?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anon - While my answer to your first question is "all of them," you might focus on strengthening your arms, chest, and trunk (front and back) to float the leg.

      To your second question, DO NOT "support" a student in any way in this posture. Let them face the fear on their own. You don't want to be liable for a broken nose, and neither do I.

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