Want this sequence in a pretty, printable 1-page PDF? Click here for access.
It’s a variation of the ever-popular “Pigeon Pose” (eka pada raja kapotasana), so Naginyasana involves deep backbending and front hip opening. Although it is challenging, it’s fairly accessible.
With the right preparation and focus, naginyasana is also potentially therapeutic. (More on that in a moment).
Since my name is Ariele, and I have red, wavy hair, this is also my “signature pose” [tongue-in-cheek] . (a reference to Disney’s The Little Mermaid).
In addition to being a mermaid at heart, I’m a doctor of physical therapy, and I must preface that this pose is NOT for everyone. Before proceeding, please first have an active (legs isometrically pulling toward one another, even if your hips are far from the floor) pigeon pose that is totally pain-free on both sides.
Pain-free means no discomfort other than muscular effort. It’s never worth gambling your well-being on a yoga pose.
The potentially “therapeutic” qualities of this pose are the position of hip extension (the antidote to sitting in a chair), and the gentle pulling action of the arm, which is a small step to help balance the high ratio of pushing actions in asana.
(Though remember chocolate is also “potentially therapeutic” – i.e. we must beware of common sense limits!…not that limits apply to chocolate…)
The principles that we’ll apply when approaching this shape are a focus on preparing the back leg and spine. Please warm up with multiple sun salutes and lateral hip openers to prepare the front leg as well. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes of active asana practice prior to attempting this shape.
- Strong buttocks engagement (to create active hip extension)
- Quadriceps opening (particularly the tricky rectus femoris and sartorius, two muscles which cross both hip and knee)
- Active backbending (using the muscles on either side of your spine in back to lift the heart)
Benefits: active engagement of scapular retractors, spinal extensors, hip extensors
Begin face down, fingers interlaced above your sacrum, firm your legs and actively reach through the toes back and up, heart forward and up and hold for 10 seconds. Protect your low back with a gentle drawing in of your navel in this and all following backbends. Repeat three times.
Benefits: rectus femoris stretch, scapular stabilizing with serratus anterior (front arm)
Propping yourself up on your right forearm, reach back with your left hand to catch your left foot. Please aim to catch the foot from the inside arch with your thumb up like you are hitchhiking. Draw the heel in as close as possible to your outer buttock and simultaneously engage your gluteal muscles to press your left side pelvis firmly into the floor. If reasonable for your body, spin the hand that is on the foot like you are turning on a faucet and point fingers in the same direction as your toes. Hold for about 30 seconds, or count breaths.
Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Gluteal, spinal extensor, scapular retractor and hip stabilizer engagement
From kneeling with toes curled under, please place your hands on your buttocks, fingers pointing outward and begin to lift your chest and press your hips forward. Imagine your ribs could telescope up and away from your pelvis. It is this length that will keep your spine safe, and the backbend as even as possible throughout your spine.
Benefits: preps the two muscles that cross both the hip and the knee anteriorly, shoulders, back and hips for our peak pose
a) Get into Pigeon Pose
From table, slide your right knee forward and slightly out to the side, while lowering your pelvis to a hover over the floor. If your pelvis makes it all the way to the floor, I recommend backing off — you are probably not using your legs enough to stay stable. Press both knees down and slightly toward one another (isometrically). This is harder for the flexible among us, but it will build crucial hip stability, and prevent you from hanging out in the end range of the joints where bone starts to contact other bone.
b) Bend the Knee
Bend your back knee and catch that foot with your hand for a little “arm wrestle” back and forth motion. When the thigh is warm, spend about 3-5 breaths with the back heel drawn in close to the buttock as in ardha bhekasana.
Repeat on the other side, or move through the next two poses on the same side before switching.
5) The Firm Handshake
Benefits: nearly all of the benefits of Naginyasana, with less of a demand on the upper back and shoulders
Turn toward your back foot with gratitude and grace. How wonderful it is to have a left leg that works for you! (Frankly, though sadly, legs are much more practical than a mermaid tail.)
Hold for 10-20 seconds, with an emphasis on squeezing your left buttocks to press the left hip forward even as the knees firmly continue to draw in.
Benefits: joy, thoracic rotation and extension, hip extension, lengthening and strengthening of rectus femoris, and so much more.
Sustaining all of the actions of stage 5 “The Firm Handshake”, please begin to lift your hands upward, push your left foot firmly into your arm, and eventually peer under your arm.
Standing Naginyasana – Standing Mermaid Pose
Once expressed fully on the ground, this pose can also be attempted in standing.
Enjoy a dancer’s pose (Natarajasana), then heel to hip in standing (like Ardha Bhekasana above but in standing), then work your spinal and hip extensors and go for the standing mermaid pose gold.
Have fun, and use your drishti (gaze) to stay focused.
May this playful pose brighten your day, keeping you afloat and in remembrance of your eternal, joyful, and singing self.
A variation of this article originally appeared on KiraGrace.com, the gorgeous, women-owned company that also makes most of the yoga clothing worn in this sequence.