As with any other yoga pose, the best way to sequence your yoga class or personal practice around Bird Of Paradise is to slowly build up into it. You have to gradually open the parts of your body that need to be stretched out, and strengthen the parts that need to hold the shape.
To safely practice Bird Of Paradise, you will need to open your hamstrings, hips, chest and shoulders. You will also need to strengthen your spine and quadriceps, and build a strong sense of balance and intense focus.
Tips and Modifications
If you have trouble making your hands connect in Bird of Paradise don’t be disheartened. Simply secure a yoga strap loosely around your waist with a tail hanging down behind you. This will allow you a “handle” to bind with as you progress through to Bird Of Paradise.
Remember…this shape is not about grabbing your hand; it’s about opening your frontal body as best you can. Your strap can help you do that securely and safely.
Start your flow with a focus-inducing breathing activity like alternate nostril breathing, to create concentration and awareness of your body parts, and to fully oxygenate your soft tissues for stretching.
After a few Sun Salutation B’s try this flow…
Find Heat and Strengthen Up
- Forward fold for a few deep breaths with your knees bent, and repeat for another few breaths holding your legs or toes with your knees as straight as your body will allow.
- Rise up to standing for a gentle backbend to begin opening the front of your body: quadriceps, hips, tummy and chest. As you straighten back out, raise your arms up and try standing on your toes. Pull your ribs in and look up to test your balance and create length. Hold for three smooth breaths collecting your focus and intent.
- Step back into Warrior II holding for 3-5 breaths, then move smoothly into Pyramid Pose for 3-5 breaths to stretch out your hamstrings.
- Lift the back leg and come into Warrior III to increase strength in the legs, warm the hips and ignite your core.
- Flow through Vinyasa and repeat steps 3-4 on the second side.
Get Deep Into The Hips
- Walk out into Down Dog and lift the right leg long and straight in Three Legged Dog. Bring the knee to your right elbow and hold here, lifting the knee as high as you can towards your shoulder for 3 breaths.
- Lift the leg back to Three Legged Dog and stack your right hip on top of the left for Scorpion Dog. Hold here, arching open, or if you are warm enough, flip your dog.
- Go back to Down Dog and step forward to Warrior II to strengthen up, go into Triangle for your hamstrings and hips, and then end in Side Angle for three breaths.
Tip: Try to take your side angle as deep as you can by straightening your lower arm down towards the floor and half binding your upper arm behind your back to the strap around your waist, your hip or inner thigh.
Spin your chest up and open and if you have room take the full bind by tucking your lower arm under your front thigh to open your shoulders. Use a strap here to help you go a little deeper while maintaining the alignment of your Side Angle (chest spins upward, hips press forward, legs strong, torso ignited). Release carefully back to Down Dog and repeat on the second side.
Open Your Frontal Plane
- Take Plank pose and lower down to your belly for three rounds of Sphinx, Cobra, Bound Locust, Seal, Up Dog or Danurasana (Bow Pose). You could use any combo of these heart-opening variations, but make sure you build up in intensity.
- Press back to Down Dog and into a long deep forward fold.
Prepare Your Arms and Shoulders
- Twisted Forward Fold – Start in a soft forward fold placing your right hand under your nose on a block or your mat, then bend your right knee and straighten your left leg. Raise your left arm up to the sky with spread fingers. Hold for 3 breaths.
- To increase shoulder and chest range of motion, try threading your left arm around your lower back to your opposite hip or inner thigh, and your right arm between your legs. Wrap the left elbow around your leg as if trying to grab your butt cheek. Maybe you capture your straps tail, your thigh, or your opposite hand in a full bind.
- Hold for 3-5 breaths rooting into both feet fully to ignite your hamstrings and strengthen your hips. Repeat on the second side and go through your Vinyasa.
Getting Into Bird Of Paradise
- Now come into your Bird of Paradise from your twisted and fully bound forward fold by slowly lifting the bound leg up off the floor and straightening out.
- Focus your gaze out in front of you and press your hips forward, and your ribs in. Lift your heart up and slide your shoulders back behind you.
- You can keep your knee bent or straighten out the leg, opening the toes up to the sky. Hold for five breaths. Do this on both sides with a vinyasa in between to help reset.
Stretch Out and Release
- From a long Ragdoll, rocking side to side, take a seat in the middle of your mat and stretch out with Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, in a seated tree twist and look over the matching shoulder as the bent knee.
- Gently undo that twist and come back to center. Take the opposite hand down to the mat and lift your hips for Wild Thing pose.
- Finish in a relaxed Butterfly pose, folding softly forward over your lap. Spend a few minutes here connecting with the intention, concentration and focus you used to come into Bird Of Paradise, then try and maintain that quality off of your mat.
There you have it, a delicious way to safely build into a complicated and challenging posture. Note that there are other variations of the pose and there is no single, definitive way to practice and enter it.
Never force an angle or pose; instead, try slowly integrating this sequence and its variations into your flow to make something that rings true to your body.