The statuesque profile of this yoga pose fittingly resembles the striking and unmistakably attractive Bird of Paradise. Distinguished by the strength and balance required in the supported leg, foiled by the elongation and stretch of the extended leg, Bird of Paradise is a statement as a bird, flower, and yoga pose.
An attractive addition to any practice, this pose, like its namesake, blossoms best with love from the sun. Prior to practicing these preparatory poses, it is best to practice three to five cycles of Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) and three to five rounds of Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salutation B). Holding the following poses for three to five breaths in preparation for Bird of Paradise.
1. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose) – Variation
While Bird of Paradise will be deepening the twist of the spine away from the legs, it is nice to warm up both sides of the body. Activate the legs by squaring the hips and lifting the back quadriceps while slowly lowering the hips. Stack the shoulders and engage the core to relieve weight from the supporting arm and wrist. If possible, soften your drishti (gaze) towards the extended thumb of your top hand.
2. Parivrtta Anjaneyasana (Revolved Low Lunge Pose) – Variation
A favorite for cyclists and runners with tight hips, this deep quadriceps stretch opens the front of the body and helps stretch the hips for Bird of Paradise. Again, focus on lengthening both sides of the spine throughout the twist and engage the core to lift out of the supporting arm, shoulder, and wrist.
3. Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose) – Variation
While in this photo the arms are straight and both to the inside of the front leg, it would be as effect of a prep pose to have the forearms on the floor. The goal here is to continue to stretch and strengthen the legs and hips. Specific focus on the tailbone reaching toward the back heel while the front leg stays strong and stable.
4. Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose) – Bind Variation
Once the legs feel like they can support the body with ease, the arms can play with binding. Start with the arm closest to the front leg wrapping underneath the front thigh and palm face up by the hip. The other arm can wrap behind the back. Eventually, the hand wrapped under the thigh will be able to reach the wrist of the arm behind the back.
5. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) – Variations
In these variations of Extended Side Angle Pose, the top arm will start to wrap behind the back toward the front thigh and in time, the bottom arm will wrap underneath the thigh and reach to the wrist of the arm behind the back. It is extremely important for the health of the shoulders to never force the bind and instead focus on the journey to binding.
Holding onto a strap or towel to help the hands bind is a great way to work on this pose. Focus on lifting the bottom ribs and engaging the core and legs to get the most benefit in this movement.
6. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) – Variations
In these variations of Extended Triangle Pose, hyperextension of the front knee and internally rotation of the hips is the most common error. It is important that when in doubt, slightly bend the front knee to avoid hyperextension and joint damage.
By imagining a hand on the front hip constantly lifting it up and back, the quadriceps continue to activate, lifting the kneecap and protecting the knee joint. In addition, it is important to use the core to lengthen the spine and help the chest lift and externally rotate the hips of the back leg.
7. Garudasana (Eagle Pose) – Variation
With all the shoulder opening preparation for Bird of Paradise, it can be nice to stretch the back and shoulder muscles with Eagle arms. It might also feel nice to “fly the eagle” at this time and gently move the hips and shoulders with the arms leading the way in flight.
Listening to the body and softly bending the knees is important in this movement. Yogi Tip: Eagle Pose is a great way to unwind and cool down after Bird of Paradise.
8. Prasarita Padottanasana C (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend C)
A final release of the shoulders and hamstrings, this movement lengthens the spine. Evenly distributing weight through the legs and lifting the hamstrings will help keep the hips even. Feet can be slightly pigeon-toed, avoid having the toes reach out and away from the midline of the body.
Finally! Bird of Paradise, there are many ways to get into this pose.
One-way, start with the feet a little wider than hip distance and sweep one arm underneath the thigh and the other behind the back.
The arm under the thigh one day reaches and gently hold the wrist of the arm wrapped behind the back. Shift weight into the supporting leg and slowly lift heel then toe off the ground. Spine stays long and the knee can stay bent.
Remember all the prior preparation poses that worked the legs, keep this up when lifting: the legs will activate and help lift the body.
Eventually, the top leg will be elongated and the spine tall. Gaze in the opposite direction of the extended leg and strike that pose.
Bird of Paradise pose evinces breathtaking balance, strength, and stretch, a triple threat of an asana. We would love to hear about your adventures and tips for achieving this striking and powerful pose, comment below.
Image credit: Brittany Richard