It Ain't Classy, but it's fun! Leg-Behind-the-Head Poses
Eka Pada Sirsasana. I Know what you're thinking. "Who me? That posture is for advanced yogis, even contortionists! -not my beginner/intermeidate practice!". For some reason, these postures are very seldom taught in class probably because they seem scary and impossible to new yogis. But the truth of the matter is, that any yogi can do preparatory work to gain the flexibility for these, awe-inspiring and joke-inducing poses (c'mon, I know they're not the most ladylike of the bunch). If you don't practice, how are you ever going to get there? and in all honesty, they add a whole lot of fun and dimension to your yoga repertoire.
Your momma said "what you water grows", right? But you don't need me to tell you that. If you're a yogi, you already know it. So quit avoiding postures that scare you, and have fun and don't take yourself too seriously when you don't pop right into them on your first attempt. No matter how flexible you are, these postures take work and time, but I promise you, that with dedication to both, you will get your leg behind your noggin' sooner than you think! Also, no matter how advanced you become, it is nearly impossible to hook your leg behind your head without warming up the right muscles, so let's start there!
1. External rotation of the hip
The outer hip muscle aka Piriformis muscle is the main player in this game. It is a small muscle located deep in yo bootay. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the upper outer surface of the femur and helps turn the entire leg outward. This is the muscle you NEED to stretch before attempting any leg-behind-the-head posture. How do you do this? Well, there are many ways. And don't just pick one. Work through several of these postures to help loosen the muscle so you don't pull anything!
- Pigeon Pose
- Thread the Needle Pose
- Extended Cobbler's Pose
- Baby Cradle Pose
2. Strong Pelvic Floor
Your pelvic floor and core strength must be strong enough to support back, legs, and neck in the posture. Once you successfully gain enough flexibility to hook your ankle behind your head, the posture turns into a strength posture. You need to actively lift up in in the waist using your core strength to resist the weight of your leg on your neck. Ideally, you want to gain enough flexibility that you ankle is not longer resting on your neck and you are resting your shin behind both shoulders but this is not feasible in the beginning -so I digress.
3. Flexibility of the Sacroiliac joint
For those of you who dozed during anatomy class (not judging, just being real), the Sacrum consists of 5 vertebrae fused together forming a single curve-shaped bone that connects to the tailbone as well as the back side of the pelvis. This joint has an identity crisis of sorts. It is neither the spine, nor is it the pelvis, but rather a fusion of both.
When practicing leg-behind-the-head postures, even if you're not getting the leg actually behind the head, you still need to consciously think about this joint to protect it and also gain maximum range of motion. The lower back needs to round and thinking about rounding your pelvis along with the spine rather than forcing it the opposite way. I like to think of it as rounding the tip of the tailbone towards the front side of the body. Just like Fido does when he is scared.
To sum it all up, if you outer hips are too tight, your legs will not go behind your head. If you core strength is lacking and your torso isn't strong, your leg will not feel good behind your head. Try not to force it, but instead, gently work on deepen into your preparatory postures and you will know when you are ready to attempt it. Many people try leg behind the head from compass (sitting up), but I personally think it is easier to try it lying on your back because balance is not a factor when you're lying down. Finally, relax! Outer hip flexibility requires the nervous system to be relaxed. If you tense up, you will only tighten the muscle further. Go slow, and make sure not to practice in short shorts! Unless, of course, you're into that kind of attention!