Yoga Tip .007 - finding paradise in your bird

I have always wondered if the yoga pose Bird of Paradise (Svarga Dvijasana) referred to the tropical plant or the bird, or both. I always assumed it was the plant because I was close to many bird of paradise plants in my native south and now, too, in San Francisco. The Sanskrit Dvija means ‘twice born’ and Svarga means ‘paradise’ or ‘heaven’ so it may refer to both the tropical plant flower in form and a bird that is twice-born, first as an egg and then as a chick.

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Bird of Paradise is a very challenging pose. It requires flexibility in the shoulders (in inward rotation), in the hamstrings and in the adductors (inner thighs). It also demands 3-dimensional core strength and most importantly a resilient ego because you will fall at some point :) The first time I attempted it I felt like I had tied myself into an untenable knot unable to even breath. I perplexed over how not to explode as I tried to release myself and then did anyway. Once I learned how to do the pose, I learned to love the leverage afforded by the full-arm bind and the confidence-building qualities of balancing.

Here are some preparatory poses and tips on how to set yourself up in a useful way in order to move closer towards the full pose. Working into the preparatory poses with patience will help you find your way into the pose with a deep experiential understanding of the needed actions in the body.

 

Preparatory Poses:

Gomukhasana Arms

Gomukhasana Arms

Paschima Namaskarasana

Paschima Namaskarasana

For inward rotation in the shoulders:

Gomukhasana arms (cow face arms)

Paschima Namaskarasana (reverse prayer pose)

 

For Opening the inner thighs and hamstrings:

Modified Upavistha Konasana with a side bend

Modified Upavistha Konasana with a side bend

Standing Happy Baby Pose

Standing Happy Baby Pose

Wide Low Lunge on Hands

Wide Low Lunge on Hands

Wide Low Lunge on forearms (Lizard)

Wide Low Lunge on forearms (Lizard)

Wide Low Lunge with shoulder under thigh

Wide Low Lunge with shoulder under thigh

Utthita Parsvakonasana with hand on hip

Utthita Parsvakonasana with hand on hip

Utthita Parsvakonasana with half-bind

Utthita Parsvakonasana with half-bind

Utthita Parsvakonasana with full-bind

Utthita Parsvakonasana with full-bind

Modified Upavistha Konasana (Wide-legged side stretch working your shoulder toward the inner knee)

Wide Low Lunge on hands, Wide Low Lunge on forearms (Lizard), Wide Low Lunge with shoulder under thigh

Standing Happy Baby Pose (shoulders to inner knees)

Utthita Parsvakonasana with hand on hip, in a half-bind or full-bind (shoulder to inner knee)

 

Coming into Bird of Paradise from the ground up:

Standing Happy Baby Pose

Standing Happy Baby Pose

Full Bind, lift heel and gaze forward

Full Bind, lift heel and gaze forward

Activate foot as it lifts off of ground

Activate foot as it lifts off of ground

Three key Steps

1. Standing Happy Baby Pose (shoulders to inner knees)

2. Bind around the right leg, walk the right foot closer to your center, lift the heel, LIFT YOUR GAZE TO FIND A DRISHTI (gazing point)

3. As you lift the right foot off the ground ACTIVATE YOUR RIGHT FOOT

Bird of Paradise with bent knee

Bird of Paradise with bent knee

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

Being in the Pose:

Knee is bent if you cannot lengthen the leg but KEEP THE FOOT ACTIVE

OR

Lengthen the leg if you have the flexibility

In both cases, work the energy in the opposite direction of the lifted leg. In this case, energize the left shoulder and torso to reach back on the left back diagonal. There is a constant downward and frontward right diagonal energy that you must balance because of the weight and trajectory of the lifted leg.

 

An Accessible Alternative:

I was teaching a weekly class to a group of seniors from the Leadership High School here in San Francisco. Right before class the students would always go over to a wall of yoga poses in our studio to pick out which poses they wanted to learn. One time, they chose Bird of Paradise. I knew their yoga practices pretty well at this point. They were willing to try anything and had the bodies of resilient teenagers. I quickly came up with the idea of having them try it at the wall. It turned out to be one of the most accessible ways I have ever taught the pose. Try it and you will be amazed:

Lift the leg onto the wall

Lift the leg onto the wall

Notice the angle from the body...about 45 degress

Notice the angle from the body...about 45 degress

 

1. Stand at the wall (in this case with your left side toward the wall) about 2 feet or so away and take your left leg to the wall with your knee bent. Notice that my leg is not directly to the side but instead at about a 45 degree angle. Try your best to keep your right leg somewhat under your center of gravity.

Take your hand to your heel and draw the shoulder closer to the inner knee.

Take your hand to your heel and draw the shoulder closer to the inner knee.

 

2. Take your left hand to your left heel inside the left leg. Work your shoulder as close as you can to the inner knee.

Take a full bind or use a strap to connect the hands behind you.

Take a full bind or use a strap to connect the hands behind you.

 

3. Either find a full bind connecting the hands or use a strap to connect them.

Press off with your toes and activate the foot.

Press off with your toes and activate the foot.

 

4. Use the sensitivity of your toes to gently press your self away from the wall being sure to activate your foot as you do.

Detail of bind.

Detail of bind.

Take the energy of your body and gaze away from the lifted leg.

Take the energy of your body and gaze away from the lifted leg.

 

5. Draw the energy in the opposite direction of the leg, in this case the right back diagonal…even take your gaze back over the shoulder to emphasize this energetic flow of your body.

 

 

Fly like a bird or enjoy the beautiful presentation of your body just like a tropical flower.

 

Namaste

Yoga Tip .006 - smoothing out the texture

Supported Adho Mukha Svanasana

Supported Adho Mukha Svanasana

Having an effective restorative sequence in your toolkit is invaluable especially when you are feeling stress. When I was in grad school, this sequence supported me and enabled me to manage my anxiety. The combination of heart opening, inversions and forward folds proved to be an effective combination that smoothed out the texture of my nervous system without putting me to sleep.

A sturdy, simple chair is essential. A yoga chair is ideal but if you have a good sturdy kitchen chair, it will often suffice. Blankets or meditation cushions are perfect for padding up the hard surfaces and giving your delicate neck space. I would not recommend Halasana (Plow Pose) for folks who have any neck conditions, soreness or discomfort in the neck region. Plow Pose is perfect for those with a healthy neck and are very comfortable with shoulder stand. Always consult your doctor to ensure any yoga sequence, including this one, are appropriate for you and that you have no contraindications.

1. Supported Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward Facing Dog) with your forehead on a block. Hold for up to 1 min.

2. Supported Backbend over a chair. Hold for 30s to 1 min.

3. Supported Halasana(Plow Pose) over a chair. Use two blankets at a minimum for neck support. Hold for 5-10 min.

4. Supported Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose) with bolsters. Hold 5-10 min.

5. Supported Pascimottanasana (Extended Back Pose) with bolsters. Hold 5-10 min.

6. Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall Pose). Hold 5-15min.

Enjoy your calm :)

Supported Backbend

Supported Backbend

Supported Halasana

Supported Halasana

Supported Janu Sirsasana

Supported Janu Sirsasana

Supported Pascimotanasana

Supported Pascimotanasana

Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani

Yoga Tip .005 - mastering yourself in hanumanasana

Hanumanasana with a block under belly of hamstrings

Hanumanasana with a block under belly of hamstrings

Hanumanasana with blocks under shoulders

Hanumanasana with blocks under shoulders

Hanumanasana, or ‘The Splits’ as we used to call it in gymnastics, is one of those poses where mastering yourself is central to truly embodying the asana’s empowering qualities. From the perspective of someone who wanted to be a cheerleader, hanumanasana can be a long fought battle with the ego of self-judgement. From the perspective of a person who easefully moves fully into the asana, it can provoke the other extreme of the ego, self-pride. For all yogis, hanumanasana is a pose that requires a mindful attention to the nuances of physical sensations in the hamstrings + quadriceps (the complementary muscle groups on the back + front of the thighs) and to the nuances of your mindstate.

If you have ever had a hamstring injury, as I have, you will understand the long process of recovery. That being said, if you do have an injury, be it recent or seasoned, hanumanasana is a pose that could be an asana to observe on others or to practice with great restraint. Hanumanasana is a pose that provides fertile ground in which to study the qualities of grasping and aversion, their root causes and their affects on whether you are doing the asana with safe integrity.

Here are some suggestions for prepping the body well to move into hanumanasana with some interesting approaches and variations. In all cases, you want to move with attention on the areas of greatest stress but also be mindfully aware of the peripheral presence of the ego and motivations for the way you are moving into the pose.

As in all asana practices, you want to plan a strategy for preparing the body for where you want to go….in this case, hanumanasana. Any warm ups that focus on the hips joints, on the fronts + backs of the thighs and on regulating the breath + focus will serve you well.

Sun salutations (surya namaskar) with low lung, anjenayasana, and high lung will begin to open and warm the front + back dimensions of the body. Sprinkling into sun salutations half-splits (ardha hanumanasana) and any quad/hip flexor stretch will be useful in letting the body know where you are headed. Standing split, lord of the dance(natarajasana) and a sort of skewed version of hanumanasana (leg to the side diagonal rather then directly in front) are also great places to begin to deepen the opening of the targeted areas even more.

Blocks are of great assistance in supporting the full pose and in helping you come into a version where the reach of the arms upwards creates a sense of lightness and confidence even if you cannot completely come all the way down into the mat with the groins.

Some interesting variations might be to try the standing split at the wall, natarajasana into a classic standing split or into a handstand with hanumanasana legs.....a great place to explore balance in your handstand.

Whatever version you engage, have fun while your awareness is ensuring that you are at an appropriate place.

Always consult your doctor to ensure any yoga sequence, including this one, are appropriate for you and that you have no contraindications.

 

Anjaneyasana

Anjaneyasana

Ardha Hanumanasana

Ardha Hanumanasana

Hanumanasana a-skew (leg at 45 degrees)

Hanumanasana a-skew (leg at 45 degrees)

Adho Mukha Svanasana at the wall

Adho Mukha Svanasana at the wall

Standing Split at the wall

Standing Split at the wall

Natarajasana

Natarajasana

Standing Split with blocks

Standing Split with blocks

Hanumanasana in Handstand

Hanumanasana in Handstand

Yoga Tip .001 - fight fatigue simply

We all experience fatigue at certain times in our lives. It is distinct from being tired as it is accumulated. Being tired over and over and over again = fatigue. Here are a few poses that if done on a regular basis will help you combat the effects of fatigue and encourage your body to rebuild its ability to generate energy and promote cell growth.

This is yin sequence that I recommend to stimulate your Jing, which might be described as your vitality or essence. Jing is located in the lower back and is largely responsible for your generative processes. It is no wonder that we have a lot of lower back pain in our culture as we are immobile in this region of the body from sitting at computers all day. These postures work on the connective tissue around the spine at the low back and therefore help to stimulate generative energy, keep the low back/pelvis region mobile and supple. Start slow, especially if you are sensitive in this region of your back and work up to the full poses over time. Be patient with yourself especially if these actions are not familiar to your body. Over time you begin to sleep better and feel more energetic and lively :)

1. Seal or sphinx (3 minutes) OR Saddle (4 minutes)

2. Half Frog as a counter pose (1 minute or more each side)

3. Childs Pose (as long as you like)

4. Reclined Twist (1 to 2 minutes each side)

5. Viparita Karani (up to 10 minutes)

Even if you do not have time for the whole sequence which I recommend three times per week, just doing a five minute Viparita Karani every night before bed will help as it will calm your nervous system and help you have a very sound sleep.

Enjoy!

Always consult your doctor to ensure any yoga sequence, including this one, are appropriate for you and that you have no contraindications.

saddle

saddle

seal

seal

half frog

half frog