Bird of Paradise first came on my radar sometime in the last couple of years. It was an intriguing pose and seemed like it was right up my alley — it necessitates that awesome combination of strength and flexibility, of engagement and release, that characterizes many of my favorite yoga poses.
Turns out, Bird of Paradise — for me, anyway, is just as hard as it looks. Even after a couple of years of trying the pose occasionally, I still never quite find myself in the pose’s fullest expression. My bottom leg continues to remain bent and my upper body struggles to become upright. My hips and hamstring aren’t yet loose enough to fully straighten each leg and my spine. So, I’ve been trying to incorporate some stretches that will help me improve flexibility and engagement in those muscles so I can enter the pose more fully.
Well, I’ve come to find that so many poses that seem tricky actually have some element of relaxation and equilibrium. Finding that elusive element is possible if we can stick with the pose over the long haul, and I’m interested to see how it feels to be in Bird of Paradise and feel totally relaxed – to not feel like I’m working so hard to remain stable in the pose. Ironically, I’m willing to work toward encountering that feeling. I’ve caught glimpses of that feeling and know it can’t be far off, even if my body never quite discovers “the fullest expression.”
Until then, I’ve been trying to increase openness in my hamstrings and hips as a way to find more physical relaxation and comfort. Here are a few poses that have been helping:
1. Compass pose and compass pose prep
Because compass pose has so many moving parts, I made this video a while back to help you see those moving parts more easily. I’ve also been a doing a lot of the same poses that I use to open up for compass to open up for Bird of Paradise.
2. Standing leg raise.
Because standing leg raise creates openness in the hips and inner thighs, challenges the balance, and stretches the hamstrings, it is an ideal preparatory pose for Bird of Paradise.
3. Bound side angle.
This pose can actually serve as the preparatory pose immediately before Bird of Paradise. Since I haven’t blogged about this pose yet, I thought it’d be good to provide a step-by-step guide:
- Begin in Warrior II with your right leg lunging, your left leg straight, and your left toes making a 90-degree or 60-degree angle with your left ankle. Press both feet down and in opposite directions; this will give your lower body stability as your upper body moves into a challenging position.
- Reach your right arm forward, using your obliques to keep your torso buoyant.
- Then, continuing to engage the obliques, lean your right ribs toward right thigh, and wind your right hand beneath your right leg and then up toward the small of your back; your right tricep or shoulder will be under your right thigh.
- If possible, reach for your right wrist with your left hand. If not, use a strap to close the space or keep your left hand on your left hip. As you settle into the pose, keep both shoulders square with the wall in front of you and sink the hips downward.
- To move into Bird of Paradise, bring weight into your right leg and then walk or tiptoe your left foot to meet your right.
- Keeping the bind, straighten your left leg and come to the ball of your right foot as you slightly straighten your right leg.
- Now, press through the left foot, firm up the left leg, and engage your obliques as you lift your right leg.
- Once you feel stable, extend your right leg and then your left. Use your side abdominal muscles and your right hip flexors to hug your flying leg toward your torso. Hold here for a few breaths and lower your right leg, releasing your bind and folding forward. Move to the opposite side.
Using these poses, I’m already finding greater ease in Bird of Paradise. In a few months, hopefully I’ll be able to share my progress!