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Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I

The first of four poses in the Ashtanga primary series, Marichyasana allows you to work on lower body flexibility and stretch your leg muscles.


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Pulled from the Ashtanga primary series, Marichyasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I) is the first of four poses that go into a deeper fold and add twists. You’ll get a deep stretch in your hips and hamstrings, so be sure to warm them up before attempting this one.

“Marichi” means ray of light (sun or moon) in Sanskrit and is one of the sons of Brahma, the Hindu god who is believed to have created the entire Earth and everything in it. Marichi is one of the original seers (rishis) or lords of creation (prajapatis) that Brahma created and is chief of the Maruts, or “shining ones.” In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna calls Marichi “the primal breath that sweeps across all space preceding the Maruts, which are the different types of powerful winds throughout the unlimited trillions of universes.”

Bow in homage to the sage as you experience the benefits of this pose to calm your system; stretch your back, shoulders, and legs; and give your organs a good squeeze. It can also help relieve tightness and pain in your lower back.

Practice some binds as preparation for this pose. As you move into this often-intense pose, be sure to pull your shoulder blades down your back to avoid rounding your back and hunching over. Continue to engage throughout your entire body, especially in your lower belly and extended leg.

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Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I Basics

Sanskrit: Marichyasana I (mar-ee-chee-AHS-anna)

marichi= a ray of light; the great-grandfather of Manu (“man, thinking, intelligent”), the Vedic Adam, and the “father” of humanity

Pose type: Forward fold

Targets: Lower-body flexibility

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Benefits

Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I is an intense pose that can improve your postural awareness through its emphasis on subtle adjustments. Besides stretching your chest, shoulders, and back, this pose can help relieve low back tightness and pain in some yogis. It also stretches the back of your thigh (hamstring) and buttock (glute) in the straight leg (extended knee) and stretches the front of your thing (quadriceps) and buttock (glute).

Other Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I perks:

  • Stimulates abdominal organs, including the liver and kidneys
  • Improves digestion
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Sit tall with your shoulders stacked above your sitting bones.
  2. Bend your right knee and place your right heel just in front of your right sitting bone.
  3. Keep your left leg strong as you press forward with your heel, rotate your inner thigh down, and root down through your thigh.
  4. Press down with your right foot and try, without moving, to pull your right heel toward the back of the mat.
  5. Let your right knee fall slightly open to the right. Hinge at your hips, lean your torso forward, and bring your right shoulder inside your right thigh.
  6. Reach your right arm straight ahead and lengthen through your torso. Internally rotate your right arm to turn your thumb down toward the mat and your palm to face the right.
  7. Hug your right shin in against your arm and keep this connection as you bend your right elbow and take your right arm behind your back.
  8. Reach behind your back with your left arm and clasp your left wrist with your right hand. (If you can’t clasp, see variations below.)
  9. As you inhale, reach your sternum forward to lengthen your front body.
  10. As you exhale, lengthen your back body by hinging from your hips and folding forward.
  11. Reach the crown of your head toward the wall in front of you and release your shoulders away from your ears.
  12. Hold for 10–12 breaths. As you inhale, slowly sit up and release.
  13. Return to Staff Pose, and then repeat on the other side.
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Explore the pose

Beginner’s tips

  • To fold more deeply, it can be helpful to sit on a bolster or a thickly folded blanket.
  • If you have difficulty clasping your hands behind your back, hold a strap between your hands.
  • Once in the full pose, you can increase the stretch in the shoulders and chest and further lengthen the front torso by reaching your hands away from the torso and straightening your elbows a bit.

Be mindful

Avoid or modify the arm bind if you have shoulder injuries or pain. Avoid rounding the spine forward into the pose if you have osteoporosis. Instead, keep the spine neutral and stay more upright.

Use caution or modify if you have acute back pain or injuries, including surgeries, arthritis, bulging discs, herniation, or SI (sacroiliac) pain.

Modify if you have knee or shoulder pain or concerns.

Partnering

If you’re having difficulty keeping the inner thigh of your bent knee pressed against the side of your torso, a partner can help. Perform steps one through five as described above. Have your partner stand behind you and use their hands to press your torso and thigh closer together.

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Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I variations

You can come into this pose with a slightly different leg position. From Staff Pose, bend both knees and place your feet on the floor, heels about a foot away from your sitting bones. Slide your right heel behind your left leg to the outside of the left hip, and rest the leg on the floor. Then place your left heel just in front of the right ankle. Now perform the pose as described above. This is an excellent preparation for Malasana (Garland Pose) and Bakasana (Crane Pose).

Or, try one of these creative variations:

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I prep

Bend one knee, and gently hold onto your shin. Use your hands to help you sit as tall as possible, pushing your low back forward. Lean forward if comfortable. Hold for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I with props

Sit forward on a bolster or folded blankets. Put a rolled-up blanket or yoga mat under your knee to prevent locking (hyperextending). Bend one knee, and gently hold onto your shin, leaning forward if comfortable. Hold for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Pose Dedicated to Sage Marichi I with a strap

Use a strap to extend your reach in the bind. (If you don’t have a strap, you can use a towel, a belt, or a sweatshirt to help bridge the gap between your hands.)

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Preparatory and counter poses

Warm up your back and shoulders before practicing Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I. Follow-up with other forward folds.

Preparatory poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Baddha Virabhadrasana (Humble Warrior) 

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Janu Sirsasana  (Head to Knee Pose)

Follow-up poses

Upavistha Konasana (Wide-angle Seated Forward Bend) 

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Your body in Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I | Anatomy

Sage Marichi I is a forward bend that challenges you to twist your shoulders and pelvis in opposite directions, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. The opposition isn’t apparent when you look at the pose, although it can be felt once you are in the pose.

The orchestration of subtle movements in Marichyasana I causes you to rotate the upper body slightly inward and away from the somewhat outward twist of the lower body, which culminates in a forward bend combined with a twist. This moves the energy of nerve conduction through the susumna nadi in your torso.

The key to this pose is understanding all the parts in the body that have the capacity to rotate and then combining them to deepen the twist.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I: Marichysana I
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

As you come into the general form of the pose, you contract the quadriceps of your straight leg, which stabilizes your knee, stretches your hamstrings through reciprocal inhibition, and assists the psoas in flexing your hip and tilting your pelvis forward. To isolate the psoas, attempt to lift your straight leg off the mat.

After you have the bind behind your back, contract the pectoralis major of your chest to turn your shoulders inward.

Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I: Marichysana I
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Bring your attention to your bent knee. When the inner hamstrings contract, they rotate the tibia of your lower leg inward, which turns your hip outward. You oppose this by pressing your knee into your arm, which engages your gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata, muscles along the outside of the front hip and larger buttock muscle. This in turn helps you twist more deeply toward your hip. Squeeze your torso against your leg to engage the psoas in your bent leg.

Coming back to your straight leg, engage the muscles of the lower leg—including the peroneus longus and brevis muscles—to help turn your ankle slightly outward. Keep the quadriceps contracted as you internally rotate the hip and femur of your straight leg, which engages the tensor fascia lata.

The back muscles, including the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum, all stretch in this pose. And when they contract a little, it creates a slight arch in your back.

To deepen the bend, try to straighten your arms. This contracts your triceps muscles and draws your shoulders away from your neck by engaging the lower third of your trapezius. This levers your body forward.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Backbends and Twists by Ray Long

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Put Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I into practice

Here are a few flows to try to add the Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I into your practice:


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.