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Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:


Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana Potential Problem Areas Image
            · Head below heart (two issues)

            · Lumbar Spine (two issues)

            · Hips and Legs

            · Feet and Ankles

            Pregnancy






Head below heart
                                - Two potential issues here.

Although taking the head below the heart is beneficial for most people, this is potentially unhelpful or dangerous for a few people – these are people for whom there is already a risk of stroke or too much pressure in the head. For this reason, taking the head below the heart is usually considered unwise for those with conditions such as: high blood pressure; previous history of stroke; tendency to headaches or a cold or a headache. It is also unwise for those who find taking the head below the heart feels uncomfortable (as in feeling flushed or hot in the head or face; increased feeling of pressure in head or feelings of pressure pulses; face looking red; feelings of discomfort in the head or face). Where you feel that taking the head below the heart is inappropriate, look for other poses that give you the benefit that you might otherwise seek to get from this pose. For example, Warrior 1 and 3 and Half squat are all good for developing leg strength and stamina.

Another issue for some is that a too rapid lifting of the head from below the heart may cause the blood pressure in the head to drop a bit too low, thus causing a feeling of dizziness or even fainting. This is particularly likely to be an issue for those who have a tendency for low blood pressure and when the pose is practised in a very relaxing way. The solution is to take care to lift out of the pose sufficiently slowly and / or to consciously activate muscles when lifting out of the pose so as to encourage blood pressure to rise a little. Another solution is to exit the pose by folding downwards or via the down-facing dog pose instead of directly rising up to standing.

A further issue is that this pose is quite demanding from a balance point of view – and those with already challenged balance (inner ear issues or weak ankles) may well find it helpful to practise beside a wall so that it gives a little extra help with balance.



Lumbar Spine
                                - Two potential issues here.

One issue is due to the fact that large forces are potentially acting across the lumbar spinal joints, particularly in the entry and exit of the pose. As a result, the muscles and ligaments of the lumbar back are at potential risk of strain (and hence injury). With the “soft” rag-doll type of approach into the forward bending aspect of this pose, this risk is minimized because the center of gravity of the trunk is as close as possible to the vertical line going through the hips and as a result of the very slow and gentle movements. Other approaches rely on taking a lot of care over the alignment of all the spine joints so that one minimises bending at spinal joints. Everyone should take this care of their spine when practising this pose, but this is particularly true for those who currently have, or have a history of, lumbar back strain, those with a tendency to lumbar kyphosis, and anyone who begins to feel even the slightest hint of lumbar back discomfort when practising the pose. The slightest hint of discomfort in the lumbar area should be taken as a sign to exit the pose (with extreme care) and seek advice (e.g. from an experienced yoga teacher). Many would consider this pose to be counter-indicated for those with any degree of lumbar strain. A safer approach (for the lumbar spine) for getting some of the benefits of this pose is to lie on one’s back with one’s legs straight and bring one knee to one’s chest. And then straighten the leg close to the chest into the air, aiming to keep the leg as close to the chest as possible. Note that, in this approach, the leg close to the chest should be kept above the trunk to avoid putting the lumbar back at risk.

Another issue is for those with a strong tendency toward lumbar spine lordosis (in a normal standing position, such people have very inward curving lumbar spine and may appear to be sticking their bottom out). In general, this pose would be very beneficial for the lumbar back for those with a tendency towards lumbar lordosis as it tends to encourage stretching and relaxation of muscles which, in such people, tends to pull the lumbar spine into lordosis. However, some approaches to this posture - and some teachers - encourage one actively to try to put the lumbar spine into extension (back bend), particularly in the entry and exit of the pose – and, for most people, this is highly beneficial and safe. The potential problem is that those who have a tendency to lumbar lordosis can easily take the lumbar spine too far into an extension (backbend), so they should be careful to avoid excessive backbends in the lumbar spine.


Hips and Legs

In terms of the leg position, this pose is a rotated version of the splits and the same muscles have to stretch to allow one to enter the position.

Having tight hamstrings tends to limit how far one can straighten the standing leg and, to some extent, lift the other leg. But this is a limiting factor, rather than being a precautionary issue – it usually simply limits how far one goes into the pose. However, because tight hamstrings do limit how far one can go into this pose, ignoring this limitation and trying to push beyond what the hamstrings will comfortably lengthen to could cause problems in the lumbar back area. Since those who are at high risk of lumbar back strain often also have tight hamstrings, it is particularly important to accept the limitations of tight hamstrings and adapt one’s approach accordingly. Because of the relationship between the hamstrings and what is happening in the lumbar spine, most teachers recommend that one keeps the knees bent when first learning this pose – this maximizes the freedom of the spine to stay long and straight as the hips becomes flexed.

Having tight hip flexor muscles (especially the ilio-psoas muscles) and some hip adductor muscles will limit how far one is able to lift the non-standing leg backwards – but going beyond this is unlikely to cause problems. More of an issue is having strength and stamina in the muscles that need to contract to lift the leg – that is the hip extensor muscles (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) as they do have to work hard to lift and hold the leg lifted.

Generally, the standing leg needs to be strong – if the leg is semi-flexed at the knee, the quadriceps will be working hard. And there will be constant micro-adjustments occurring in the tone of the muscles to help keep the leg, and thus one’s balance, steady. Thus leg stamina will, for many, limit how long they are able to hold the pose. Practice, of course, will do much to resolve this issue.


Feet and Ankles

If the muscles of the lower leg are weak, then the stability of the feet and ankles may be affected, giving one poor balance. Practising versions with balance aided by practising against a wall will help with making the pose feel accessible.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

This is a pose that I would suggest omitting during pregnancy (unless you are extremely experienced with the pose and have very good body awareness). One reason is that one’s sense of balance changes during pregnancy and this pose is challenging from a balance point of view and one really does not want to fall over during pregnancy. Another is that the pressing of the womb against major blood vessels in the trunk means that holding standing leg positions tends to cause problems. For example, discomfort, tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. Another issue to bear in mind is that the increasing size of the womb will at some stage make resting the trunk along the thighs impossible. While the trunk can be somewhat turned to one side to accommodate the growing womb, this has the problem of putting the spine into a much more vulnerable position than with resting the trunk against the thigh. There are other factors (e.g. increase weight of womb, increasing size of forces acting across the spinal joints, hormones at the later stages of the pregnancy causing a softening in the connective issues around joints) also present that make the lumbar spine more vulnerable than usual. So, potentially putting the lumbar spine in unnecessary strain seems like a really bad idea to me.

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