The Grunt



“Before the grace, there’s grunt – you have to put in the work.”

Dena Kingsberg

Every now and then, I like to refer back to this quote by our one and only Dena Kingsberg. This gives me a reminder that we don’t go from 0 to 100% in a matter of days, or weeks, or even sometimes years (and perhaps never). We have to work at it incessantly (abhyasa) we have to put in the effort without attachments (vairagya ).

I have gone through, and am still going through, the grunt  phase of eka pada sirsasana, dwi pada sirsasana , and yoga nidrasana . It’s been more than 1.5 years since my first try of eka pada sirsasana , and now there are still days when I just absolutely dread the series of postures that requires me to put my legs behind the head.

And recently came the infamous karandavasana . I am doing more than my fair shares of grunts–grunting on the way down and grunting coming back up. I can’t seem to either 1) drop my knees in towards my triceps without my knees free-falling down, or 2) prevent myself from falling face flat while trying to come up. And these are all with assistance. Come this asana, my bandhas just seem run the other way.


Source: The Yoga Comics

Bottom line: If you are currently working on an asana that refuses to be worked at, keep Ms. Kingsberg in mind. Once you’ve accumulated enough grunt, there will be grace.


Hip openings for eka pada sirsasana

My relationship with eka pada sirsasana is an on-going battle presenting challenges that I had never faced before. Blessed with a combination of a higher torso-to-leg ratio (long torso, shorter legs) and stubborn hips, asanas like eka pada sirsasana, dwi pada sirsasana, and supta kurmasana pose great difficulty for me (yoga nidrasana is slightly easier than these due to the help of gravity). I was inspired to do some more researching on the leg-behind the head postures this morning and found a few nice videos.

My favorite one: Rob Lucas shows a unique way of stretching out the hips.


And of course, here’s Kino McGregor, who makes everything look easier than it is…


And here’s dwi pada sirsasana

Dear eka pada sirsasana

Dear Eka pada sirsasana,

Wow. It’s been approximately 9 months since I met you. Our journey has been rocky. I loved and hated you, and at a point I avoided you, but now I am accepting and acknowledging you.

At first I was both frightened of and curious about you. Frightened because of your intimidating appearance–tough and unyielding. Curious because underneath your impossible appearance, there seemed to be a quality of softness in you. A quality that I seek to find and know.

You are selective when it comes to choosing your friends. You favor those with incredibly open hips. Unfortunately, I wasn’t those lucky few. My tight hips from years of running, volleyball, and badminton prevented me from entering the asana with grace and ease. I was trying so hard to be comfortable that I actually strained my back. Yes, ironic isn’t it? So I had to stay away from you for a little while. When I finally returned after 4 months, I also got to meet your relatives, Dwi pada sirsasana and Yoganidrasana. Like you, they did not treat me so kindly at first, and soon after I had met them I strained my sacrum region. Again I had to back off from your family for a good 2 months or so.

Now, 9 months later, I finally understand you. You are not mean and you are not a bully. It is merely your way of teaching us. My journey with you has been full of humbling moments. You were being hard on me because without these hardships, I would not have learned the beauty of this asana and learned how to surrender to you. You helped keep my ego in check. I am still trying to be more comfortable with this asana, but I have come to realize that the more I try the further away I slip. It is those days when I surrender myself entirely to my practice without any thoughts or goals that I become closer to you.

You still scare me a little, but not as much as before. I actually think you may be warming up to me, and I to you. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, rigid, and unstable, I am beginning to feel more at ease. Because of you, I have learned so much more about my body and myself. I have learned how not to be frustrated simply because I cannot achieve this asana by a deadline I gave myself (yoga asana practice does not happen this way!). I have learned how to be in this posture without posing harm on my emotional and physical body. Most importantly, I have learned to surrender and just be.

So, thank you for those hard times. I stumbled over them, made mistakes, but in the end I stood up again, wiser than before. Who knows when I will actually be 100% comfortable in this posture. Maybe not in this lifetime. Maybe never. But it’s the persistent practice, abhyasa, that matters. Things happen when you are true and dedicated to your practice. Asana only comprises of 1 of the 8 limbs anyway. And after all, “practice, and all is coming,” right? 🙂


Eka Pada Sirsasana–or how ridiculous I felt with one leg behind my head

Never in a million years do I see myself going into Eka pada sirsasana. I thought I was forever stuck at Ardha matsyendrasana. I have the tightest groins anyone can have, and even now, I’m still unable to touch my belly to my feet and go forward in baddha konasana (fair enough, I had a few strains in my SI joints) nor can I completely go down in upavishtha konasana.

Surprisingly, last week my teacher came to me after I did ardha matsyendrasana and told me to do the prep work for eka pada. On the outside, I played it cool, but inside, I was panicking. Oh gosh, I’m going to make the biggest fool of myself trying to get into this one.

I did some fire logs to open up my hips, then surprisingly hooked my knee over my shoulder (I am capable of that?!). I used my other hand to help straighten the leg that was over my shoulder to help open up the hips and groin regions. As someone who’s had their fair share of hamstring strains, I was extra careful when I felt the intense hamstring stretch as well.

My teacher had told me to take this asana slowly, so I wasn’t expecting it when he came over the second week and said he’d help me into the posture. He emphasized on the outward rotation of the femur, and before I knew it, I felt my right foot at the back of my head. It was like one of those moments when you went into your first backbend or headstand, and the world is upset down and you seemed to have lost your sense of orientation. My foot, which I usually see in front and below of me, is suddenly above and behind me. What were left was my left foot and the back side of my right hip. I’m sure my hunched back that was struggling to keep that foot in place would bring about the deepest scorns on all yogis’ faces. My foot had to be held firmly, and just barely, over my head, to keep it there. It was the most intense hip stretch I’ve ever felt. Sweet pain, as my teacher loves to say.

So I’ve actually only had my feet behind my head once before my teacher had me try the full posture.

Wait what? Are you sure?
I guess my teacher was, and I awkwardly reached for my straight foot today with my other foot bound behind my head.

Needless to say, I left the class with sore hips. I guess it’s better than knee pains!