Eka = ‘One’ Pada = ‘Foot’ Mala = Garland Asana = Posture
*Possible prop needed: One block, or a rolled towel.
Balancing is one of the most important aspects of our practice. Not only does it help our nervous system to wake up and start building new neural pathways as we work out how to stay balancing on one foot, hand, or head – it also helps our muscles to integrate and learn how to communicate in order to find our center of gravity. Perhaps the most important and transformational aspect of balancing though, is the fact that it makes us stay in the present moment. An unbalanced body is a sign of an unbalanced mind; there’s no way we can hold a challenging balance while we’re juggling worries around in our head, too.
Eka pada malasana combines the hip-opening aspects of a squat, with the need for our minds to be completely focussed and in the moment as we balance.
Admittedly, this is a little more difficult than it looks, as balancing is easiest when our center of gravity – which is located around the hips for women, and a little higher up in the abdomen for men – is over our foundations, whether that be the hands or the feet. Here, the center of gravity is behind the foot, so it takes a little more focus, and the ability to draw into our core to balance here for any length of time. When we’ve worked out how to be here for a while though, this fun little posture is great for building strength in the quadriceps, hip flexors and abdominal muscles as we hold one leg out in front of us, and also strengthens the instrinsic muscles of the standing foot as they work to keep us balanced.
To prepare for eka pada malasana, begin by moving through surya namasakar A and B, staying in your utkatasana (chair pose) for a few breaths longer than usual to warm up the legs in preparation for your squat.
From there, make your way through a dancing warrior sequence, which consists of a flowing sequence of warrior 1, warrior 2, reverse warrior, and parsva konasana (side angle), to further warm the legs and open the hips a little.
Once you’ve completed this on both sides of the body, step to the front of your mat and practice balancing in hasta padangusthasana A. If you’re able to, let go of the foot, so that you’re simply standing on one leg with the other leg raised straight in front of you. This will help to strengthen the hip flexors, abdominals and quadriceps in preparation for eka pada malasana.
When you’ve completed this on both legs, step back to downward facing dog and prepare for more hip opening. (yay!)
From downward facing dog, step your [right] foot forwards between the hands, and bring the left knee to the floor. Bring the hands to the inside of the front foot, and shuffle your back knee slightly towards the back of the mat. You’ll end up in lizard pose, which can help to create an opening in the thighs and hips in preparation for malasana. (It’s important not to totally let go and sink into hip opening postures like this, read here to learn more about drawing into the core and having control over our movements in postures like this).
Once your hips have been sufficiently warmed and opened to each side, step back to downward facing dog.
- From downward facing dog, step (or hop, simply because it’s more fun….) the feet outside the hands, and lower the body down in to malasana.
- The position of your feet – whether they need to be pointing out or in, and whether your heels make it down to the floor or not – is often thought to be determined by how ‘open’ the muscles of our hips are, but in fact it has a lot more to do with how our pelvic bowl is anatomically formed. i.e. how our bones are structured. (For a little more information on this, and why it doesn’t matter that we’re all completely different, click here).
- If your heels don’t reach the floor today, this is where the prop of a block or rolled up towel will come in handy. Place the block or towel under your heels, so they can rest there and allow for a greater sense of stability in the body.
- From here, shift the weight into your [right] foot, and bring your finger tips to the floor if you need to help yourself to balance.
- Lift your [left] foot from the floor, and begin to extend the leg straight out in front of you. This is where you realise how strong the hip flexors and quadriceps need to be…. Focus on flexing the lifted foot and engaging the knee, so that the muscular energy is directed inwards, towards the center of your body and your core.
- Once you’ve found relative comfort, begin to lift the hands from the floor and bring the palms together at the heart center. Again, pressing the palms together will help to draw your energy and your focus inwards.
- Wobbling is completely acceptable, and even encouraged! We learn so much more by wobbling and having to engage our muscles and mind a little more than when we do everything ‘perfectly’. If you fall, you’re only about two inches away from the floor, so allow yourself to let go of the fear of falling and enjoy the challenge of balancing instead….
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or for however long feels right.
- When you’re ready to transition out, re-bend the [left] leg and bring the foot back to the floor, returning to malasana and then seeing how this works out on the other side of the body.
- When you’ve practiced eka pada malasana to each side of the body, counterpose by simply lowering the sitting bones down to the floor, lengthening the legs out in front of you, and folding in to a gentle paschimottanasana.
Try eka pada malasana for yourself, and observe how the challenge of balancing helps to quieten the mind….
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