The Bird of Paradise is not a bird at all, but a flower that symbolizes the entire tropical plant genus. The unusually beautiful shapes and colors of the petals look like a bird taking flight, while the signature asymmetrical shape makes this a staple in most tropical bouquets.
Similarly, Svarga Dvijasana or Bird of Paradise Pose celebrates asymmetry and is a creative expression of a mash-up of Tree, Extended Side Angle, and Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose.
Unlike the effortless beauty of the flower, this challenging asana pushes the edges of shoulder and hip flexibility, and requires a tremendous amount of physical and spatial awareness in order to maintain stable footing.
On your journey to paradise, you will inevitably stumble, lose focus, and want to give up altogether, but practice patience, keep your head up (literally), and follow this step-by-step progression. Pretty soon you will soar to new heights in this peak pose.
Benefits of Bird of Paradise Pose
Standing on one leg will strengthen your calves, quadriceps, and glutes, as well as help you access and engage your core to keep you from losing your balance.
Bird of Paradise will indeed teach you the value of drishti (gaze) by increasing your ability to concentrate during chaotic situations, because with so many transitions during this pose, maintaining steady focus is crucial.
Bird of Paradise Step-by-Step
- Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) with the right leg in front is a great starting point!
- Begin your half bind by reaching the left arm behind your back. If you can keep your left shoulder open without collapsing it toward the floor, proceed with the full bind by reaching your right arm underneath your right leg and connecting your hands near the outermost part of the right thigh.
- Turn your gaze down toward the right toes and bring your left foot to the top of your mat, placing your feet at a hip width distance.
- Shift your weight onto the left leg and slowly make your way up to standing.
- Adjust your gaze straight ahead to steady yourself, and gradually straighten your right leg, bringing it into full extension.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths before descending your right foot back down to the floor. Carefully release the bind into a loose Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) before repeating on the second side.
Variations and Modifications
If you have any pain or injury of the shoulders, low back, hips, pelvis, hamstrings, or knees, skip this pose. Instead, stick with some of the following equally fun and beneficial modifications.
- If your shoulder and/or knee stability feels comprised, simply try this same pose from a seated position by lifting one leg and binding into the extended leg balance.
To Bind or NOT to Bind
One final note, please do not let the bind define this pose for you.
Yes, binding opens the shoulders and improves the fine motor skills and coordination of the fingers and hands, but you can still happily strike this pose with or without the full grip.
Take heart! Over time and with practice, your chest will expand and you will join your hands with an easy, breezy, graceful spirit keeping you bound and buoyant, but it's really just a fancy detail. Do not let it deter you from dancing your way into paradise.
As with all poses, if you feel pain anywhere, take rest and remember that you can always give it another go the next time you show up to your mat.