I love this pose for so many reasons.
My comedic side loves the imagery of being a hot mermaid sitting on a rock getting splashed by waves making the sailors floating by go mad. That sassy image helps to get your chest open and play the part. I even wore my magical Teeki tights to give me an exciting "tail" for the pose:)
My teacher side adores this pose because it's the perfect confidence booster to get students ready for Eka Pada Raja Kapotasna. I can't count the times I've taught this pose in workshops only to have people declare, "I can't believe it—I'm in the pose!!" The glow that comes over their face when they realize they can do something they never dreamed possible warms my heart. Mermaids are no longer a mythical creature but rather a very beautiful reality on your mat.
Just like any Challenge Pose, there are steps. This pose requires space in the hips, psoas, and upper back. Take each step as an individual pose and breathe—your body will open up when it's ready for the next step and you'll be singing the sweet mermaid song before you can whistle "Under the Sea."
This pose does require open hips with a single Pigeon base, but the good news is it doesn't require the deepest variation of the pose. Start in Downward-Facing Dog and step your right shin to the front of the mat. Bring your right heel in fully to your body (the deepest variation has the shin parallel to the front of the mat) and extend your rear leg straight. Roll the outer edge of your left leg down towards the ground as you spiral your upper inner thigh towards the ceiling. Work on squaring your hips by rolling your left ribs forward and encouraging the left hip to fall towards the mat. Pop up onto fingertips with straight arms and work on lifting the top of your pelvis and heart. Gently roll your shoulder heads back and hold for a good full 8 breaths.
Look over your left shoulder and bend your left knee drawing your foot in. Reach back and grab your foot with your left hand. If simply making contact with the foot is intense, stay here and breath. Otherwise, begin a slow bend in your left elbow to draw the foot in closer towards your body. Continue to roll your left hip down towards the mat and brace yourself by keeping your right fingertips on the ground in-front of your body. Play around with how far you bring the foot in and take as much time here as you need . . . this step is crucial in getting the psoas muscle to release to go into the full backbend.
Keep your left elbow bend and slide your left foot down the inside of your forearm until it lands in the crook of your elbow. Lightly curl your toes so they hold onto your leg as if they were fingers. Engage your core by lifting up through your belly and chest so you can lift your right hand up without rocking forward. Reach the right hand back to clasp the left.
Keeping your hands clasped, drop your chin and take your gaze down. Lift your clasped arms up above your head then lightly let them slide behind your skull so that the right elbow points straight up. Once the arm is behind you, take your gaze forward and renew the effort to square your hips and chest to the front of your mat (don't obsess here, just encourage the rotation). Pull your heart up as you root down through your hips and keep the right shoulder relaxing in the socket. Take 8 breaths then release your clasp and come back into your single Pigeon and fold to release your back. I'd recommend a vinyasa as well after taking both sides.
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 is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.