The initiation into the “Seven Deadlies”…otherwise known as The Seven Headstands in Ashtanga Yoga

Today I went to practice as usual. I had a good night’s sleep and felt rested. My mind felt clear, and I had a sense of energy in the body.

mukta hasta sirsasana c

I went through my practice routine…Pashasana was not so much a struggle today, thankfully. Kapotasana felt a little tight but bearable. Maintained balance in Gomukasana. In Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana, the last pose before the headstands, I was able to catch the big toe (just barely!) and rachet my body into sitting position. I noticed Andrew standing close by, watching as I bound and sat up. I’m still struggling with this pose…there are days when I cannot bind the big toe. So, as I transitioned to get ready for back bends, I was surprised when Andrew said, “Wait.” He was helping another student at that moment. “Ida, you sit. We will go through Mukta Hasta Sirsasana.”

I looked up in surprise. It’s a mixed bag of feelings. Being able to receive a new pose from your teacher in the Ashtanga tradition feels like a great honor, and sometimes is greatly coveted (when the ego is in full force, especially). It feels like a Christmas present sometimes! But then there are other times when you feel like you are fine with the poses you have, and not quite so ready to receive the new (and potentially scary) poses waiting near the end. The latter was what I felt.

But of course, one does not refuse. Andrew went in demonstrate Mukta Hasta Sirsasana A, B, C…the first three of the “Seven Deadlies” — a nickname for the seven headstands that conclude the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga yoga. Mukta A felt somewhat doable….it just a tripod headstand, not so different from the regular Sirsasana that I do in the finishing poses. Still, my arms were trembling as I floated (or tried to) my legs up and held for five…long…breaths.

Mukta B was a decidely more difficult pose. Here, I had to put my hands in front of my face, palms up, while lifting my legs up into the air. Sirsasana is difficult enough for someone like me…someone who does not like to be upside down and finds it pretty scary to put all this weight onto the neck and head. Then to put your hands in different positions just feels even scarier. I asked Andrew to spot me but even then it was a fight. Then to transition into Chataranga seems impossible.

Mukta C — where you have the hands nearly parallel to the head — feels the scariest. My arms were shaking at this point. Barely got the legs up, and was about to topple over. The fear of hurting my neck undermined all efforts to extend fully in the poses, even with Andrew standing behind me.

Surfing afterwards did not help. I already had my board in the car, and had intention to just look at the waves and then drive home. I was very tired and really just wanted to eat a light lunch and take a nap. But…as I looked along the cliff, I saw these perfectly clean lines roll along the point at my favorite spot, with just a light crumble from a NW wind. “Oh I must go out!” I felt. It would be a waste not to. Life is short…why not enjoy beauty when it is there? I texted my husband and children that I will surf for just an hour…paddling in small surf felt like a struggle. But it was such a delight to float on my board and enjoy the ocean, relishing the brine in the air, the wildness of the open sea. I caught a few good waves before the wind really came up.

More than ten hours later, my back and arms are still sore.

No wonder they call it the Seven Deadlies.

Below is a video which has helped to inspire me a little bit…(and the music is so evocative)…


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