Eka Pada Raja-what??? (or when my head touched my foot)

This morning, I received an email from a familiar place:


Three years ago today, I stepped into the Nishkama Yoga studio in Independence and took my first studio class with Jennette Zimmerman. She recently returned to teach on Thursday mornings but I haven’t had many chances to take class with her. But today, the Universe happened to clear my schedule. 75 sweaty minutes later, I’m feeling as energized after my very first class with her in 2009. To go along with today’s originally forgotten yoga anniversary, I had already planned to share a yoga post on a recent discovery on my mat.

Like my first yoga teacher training session in March, the April TT weekend was filled plenty of mental, physical and emotional experiences. They left me feeling drained but also filled with an intense energy and want to continue my learning. So on the Monday nights following a teacher training weekend, I practice with my teacher Laura at her vinyasa flow class. I like the opportunity to have the lessons from the weekend sink in via a physical practice the following day.

All day Monday, I questioned my decision to take her class that evening. Boy, I’m tired. Wow, my abs hurt. Wait, EVERYTHING hurts. Is this a good idea? But even with all that him-hawing, I was on my mat at 5:45 and ready to work. I did my best to fix my alignment in chair pose and the various twists we worked as they were a highlight of Sunday morning’s lesson. I was feeling strong – amazingly strong, considering how tuckered out I was earlier in the day. There was serious energy working in me that was taking me to some pretty cool places.

As it came time for the hip openers, Laura called out half pigeon pose, giving me the look of “don’t you dare start growling at me”. I’ve written and reminded you all about my distain for that pose, but in the past month, I’ve tried to be more open to it. No more growling. Minimal brow furrowing. More breathing. I’ve played around with arm placement as well as some twists in the pose which have made it less uncomfortable. I’m still not happy in it, but I’m learning to be more neutral than angry.

As I was starting to settle into my pigeon, Laura said “if you have Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in your practice, go there now”. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or for those of you not regularly speaking Sanskrit, One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, looks like this:

(photo source from yogajournal.com)

As I was trying my best to remember which pose she was referring to, Laura came over as she was going remind me by assisting me into it.

It’s important to note that there’s A LOT going on when you take this pose. So so so many areas of your body have to be open. I’ve seen others play with the prep of getting into it, but only seen a few in person make contact of the foot and head like in the above picture. But I knew I could at least bend my back knee up and reach back to start the learning process.

Laura gently guided my body into the proper alignment: shifting my hips level, guiding my arms into the appropriate location and helping me to grab onto my toes. While it started as a hip opener, she lead me to a backbend. With her supporting me, she said “add a backbend and look who likes pigeon!” The intense stretch felt amazing all over and I couldn’t help but smile at her comment.

As our body has two sides, we switched and I settled into my pigeon on my left side – which is the side that tends to be looser. Laura again did the same assists that she did on the other side but then asked me to drop my head back. And before I knew it, I felt something on my head. Which was also paired with feeing something touching the bottom of my foot. And in that moment I realized: my head was being cradled by my foot.

My awareness quickly shifted to my eyebrows as they rose in reaction to such surprise and I whispered the only thing that I could in that moment: “holy crap.” And after a breath, I said it again. But while I was nearly speechless, my mind was chattering away: My head is touching my foot! My head is touching my foot!

Laura held me and reminded me to breath and to stay in the pose. While I actively stayed strong to hold it, the energy seeping from my body was so tangible it made it so much easier. As I let go of the emotion of surprise, that energy lead me into a place of calm where I felt like I could have stayed there for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, we had shavasana and a meditation still to get to, so that wasn’t an option.

As she guided me out of the pose, I was fully aware of what I had just experienced – in more than just the physical sense. To think that pose that I’ve growled my way through lead me to this moment of openness and awareness. To think of how that lesson applies off the mat: dealing with the not so great times to then rise up to a moment of greatness. In that pose, I felt like all my hard work from that class, that previous TT weekend and the past few months of progression off my mat was showing me just how far I’ve come.

But it wasn’t without help from others. And sometimes being open to allowing for that help is the hardest part. I’m always down for a good assist when I’m on the mat. But I still need to be reminded that it’s okay to ask for help when I’m off of it. To reach out when I’m feeling overwhelmed or lonely. I constantly talk about the practice of synergy: alone we can only do so much, but together we can do so much more. Maybe through some more assists to Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, not only will I be touching my head to my foot on a more regular basis, I’ll be doing even greater things in those times outside of the yoga studio.

Damn pigeon pose. Now look at what you’ve gotten me into…

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  1. Jess says:

    Wow. This was such a cool moment for you — I felt like I was right there with you as you came to that realization, with assistance from your instructor, and into that pose you went – with relative ease, strength and breath. Amazing. You bowl me over with all that you’ve learned and continue to learn on your yoga journey! I can’t wait for you to come visit so you can show me the ways of the yogi! So proud of you girl!!

  2. jobo says:

    oh my goodness!!! WHAT a feat. WHAT an accomplishment and WHAT a moment that must have been!! I am seriously smiling from ear to ear reading this, and so proud of you and your progress!! you are amazing. And congratulations on three years and how very far you’ve come!! Love that our barre-o-versary and your yogi-versary are the same week (diff years)!!!

  3. Momma sunshine says:

    Wow…I love this!! Pigeon pose is also my MOST hated pose…my hips are very tight (I’m also a runner) and being in pigeon (particularly reclining pigeon)seems to cause a lot of anger in me to surface. I’ve been trying to embrace it, telling myself that my body is telling me I need to do it, but man, it’s tough!

    So kudos to you!

  4. Samantha says:

    That’s so amazing, congrats on making such a hard pose! I hope to be able to do that someday.

    I think I’m in the minority when I say that I love half-pigeon pose. I don’t grumble or growl, I welcome it. I have very tight hips, being a runner, and it’s one of the most difficult poses for me, but when I accomplish and finish it strong I feel amazing.

  5. Heather says:

    Isn’t it funny how the days we don’t feel like going we end up having the best class/run/etc? I swear that happens every time!
    Keep up the great work, Alicia! Amazing accomplishment!!!!

  6. Kali says:

    Damn pigeon pose!

    But seriously, that’s awesome. That’s similar to how I felt when I did an unassisted headstand the first time. It’s so amazing how you can apply lessons learned on the mat to every day situations.

  7. PIP Aunt Kat says:

    That’s our Alicia. Always accomplishing something new and challenging. Good job. I am always very proud of you.

  8. Lady Lazarus says:

    That’s how I felt the first time I did a headstand. Something seemingly so easy (and something I did all the time as a kid!) confunded me as an adult and I, more then once, told my instructor I hated it. Now it’s one of my favorite poses 🙂

  9. Amanda says:

    That rocks! I agree that it’s the days I feel completely uninspired to go to the gym when I bust through my best training sessions. I love reading about your yoga journey…definitely inspiring – keep it up!

  10. Becca says:

    I love you. All of the stuff you write about your TT experience is like reminding me of all the things that I was going through during TT. I just couldn’t find the words to do it justice.

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