I’m not going to lie, this is one of my least favorite poses. Which is unfortunate considering how pretty it is. As the title brags, Bird of Paradise mimics the beautiful flower of the tropical plant. But the pose can be uncomfortable for many reasons: it requires deep hamstring and hip flexor range, an open chest, and a strong sense of balance. The pose looks serene but within it, the yogi is constantly battling the fluctuations of balancing on one leg with an engaged core and extended leg. It’s tempting to sneer and pant while getting into the pose but that certainly won’t help and may just end up scaring the person next to us. Know that this pose is indeed challenging—physically and mentally—so do your best to relax your mind and expectations. Enjoy the bent knee variation of the if your hip flexor and hamstrings aren’t ready; the full pose will come in due time!
Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and come into a slightly bent-knee forward fold. Reach your right arm back and in between your legs as if you’re reaching for something behind you. Keep leaning deeper into the fold to reach the arm further back. The goal is to get your right shoulder wiggled far back to the inside of your right leg. Extend your left arm up toward the ceiling.
From this bent-knee forward fold, rotate the palms of both hands back and bend your elbows as you clasp your hands on the outside of your right hip. If you can’t make the clasp, start with a yoga strap in your left hand and whip it back to grab hold of with your base hand. If it is easy for you to clasp your hands, try grabbing your left wrist with your right hand.
Wiggle your feet closer together so you’re at a traditional hip-width stance. Keep your knees bent and lean the weight into your left leg as you lift the heel of your right foot up. Hold tight to your clasp. Drop your hips and see if you can hover your right foot above the ground.
Once your foot is hovering, push into your base foot. Start to lift your chest up away from your thighs, keeping the base leg bent as your torso comes up. Remember there’s no rush! It’s easy to lose your balance in this transition, so take your time. Once your torso is upright keep your wrapped leg relaxed. Straighten your standing leg and focus on lifting the kneecap. Drop your tailbone and hug your standing hip in. Relax your shoulders down away from your earlobes. This is a fabulous variation of the pose so feel free to stay here. If you want the full extension, drop your right sit-bone down as you hold tight to your clasp and extend the right leg toward straight. Drag the base tips of your shoulder blades down your back and lift your heart. Soften your shoulders and spread your lifted toes. Keep your gaze down and forward for more balance or forward and/or up for more challenge.
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and author of Rodale’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga . Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website. Come on retreat with her in Stowe, Vermont this October for yoga, archery + outdoor beauty via The Travel Yogi.