Its feels almost too late to write about EPB. I am through the figuring-it-out phase during which new sensations stand out against an empty background of non-experience, in which the mind works through things because the body lacks the knowledge.
If I were capable of teaching this posture—which would take years of empathetic work with others and a stronger visual sensibility than the one I’ve got—I would be less locked in to tacit knowledge and more able to describe it in bodies besides my own. That is an aamazing skill (the two people who have offered me the best verbal instruction do not have bodies like mine—one is a male vinyasa teacher maybe twice my weight)—one I’m not given naturally and have not cultivated at any depth.
I said earlier that initially EPB starts as a hybrid with galavasana, with the bent-leg calf listing to center like a rudder, and then you gradually bring it into alignment with the arms in the sagittal plane.
That is the slow road and I can say that the first little way of it is easy if you already practice galavasana. I ended up taking the fast road and finding it more interesting in ways I’ll try to explain.
The fast road requires a big strong teacher whose kinesthetic intelligence, knowledge of ashtanga and attention to your practice are ridiculously keen. How likely is it to find skill and teacherly service like that? Pretty much impossible, which is why the slower road is all good.
In my case, for a couple of weeks, I had someone create a base for my upper arm and gently guide the knee to a place where it could stay, parallel to the same arm, without wobbling free. So I rested part of my bodyweight on that base–two stacked fists–while I found the point of balance and, gradually, learned that this posture is more about balance than strength. Once you’re in, the force between the knee and the tricep is the fulcrum, and if you bend the arms it’s actually easier to hold (once you’re actually up) than galavasana. To begin, it was fine for me to bring the knee sort of close to the elbow, though now each day I inch it closer and closer to the armpit.
With the earlier method, I was concentrating on straightening the back leg, lighting up the quad to counterbalance the weight of the head. Now I don’t even know what is happening in the leg, but I’m definitely not concentrating on making it straight or heavy. When the calf is in line with the arm, it feels like it’s only a balance around the strong knee-arm fulcrum. More precarious than effortful. I keep the elbows bent and each day play with moving the knee closer to the armpit.
Once I’m up, it’s easy. I play with bending bent knee even more sharply, finding out what that does not only to the rectus abdominus but to the hollow spaces below it. I think they call that uddiyana bandha. Alternatively, it works to play with the pelvic floor rather than the stuff around the diaphragm, but for right now I actually feel like the roots are a bit relaxed.
Which is funny, because now that I’m working a little deeper in to the series (practicing four of what I have been told are seven arm balances—if there’s more than this, do not tell me because I benefit from not knowing what is next) I am finally—after a year and a half—starting to feel grounded. For the first year I hoped for big stiff guys to practice near me, and finished practice feeling relatively spacey. The shift away from those more ethereal feelings makes me wonder if at this point I’m using the pelvic floor more than I realize… or if the brute physical force of all this lifting is turning me into a more solid kind of creature. For now.