Bird of Paradise is a bound standing pose, where you balance on one leg and try to look like a stork. But, you know, an elegant stork. It’s a doozy of a pose, requiring balance, open hamstrings, external rotation, and deep hip flexion. Let’s take a closer look at how you can get your students there.
Component parts – what needs to be warmed up or educated to do the pose
- hamstring opening – particularly inner leg/ groin
- flexion and external rotation of the lifted leg
- internal rotation of the upper arm and openness to the chest
- binding – needs to be intelligently educated for health of shoulder
- standing up – needs to be intelligently educated so that the work is coming from the legs and you’re not “hauling” the leg up with the upper body
Props you need
For this pose, there are some actions that need to be educated: binding and standing.
How to bind
I often see people binding in such a way that their chest collapses into spinal flexion. Binding at the expense of the chest (or binding and “hanging on for dear life”) is not optimal. Use a strap to lengthen the arms when needed. Everyone has different length arms relative to their torso. A bind that is easy for one person may be challenging for someone else. Honour the integrity of the pose over the aesthetics of “getting it.”
How to stand
Also, in Bird of Paradise, you have to stand up onto one leg. I often see students hauling themselves up by their upper body – in particular, letting the heavy weight of their bound leg rest in the bind of their arms. Poor rotator cuff and shoulder! The leg is bigger – and heavier – than the arm, so don’t let the shoulder do the work of supporting the bound leg. Instead use the legs to lift the legs. Let the arms be decorative – not hauling machines.
Sequence of yoga poses
- Wide legged child’s pose (opening groin)
- Cat/ Cow
- Sun Salutations – use to thread the remaining poses for flow class. Or simplify for hatha.
- Side angle pose (parsvakonasana) with back shin down and parallel to back of mat (like a baby side angle) (flexion/ external rotation)
- Low lunge (anjaneyasana) to half splits (ardha hanumanasana) (opens hamstrings)
- Warrior two (virabhadrasana two) to side angle (parsvakonasana) (external rotation, flexion)
- Humble warrior (extension and internal rotation of the arms)
- Chair (utkatasana) shift weight side to side and balance on one foot (beginning to teach actions needed to stand up)
- Chair (utkatasana) balance on one leg to step back into high lunge with hands clasped behind (extension and internal rotation of arms)
- Tree (vrksasana) (balance, external rotation)
- Lizard (flexion, external rotation)
- Step forward to standing splits with top hip open (hamstrings, groin, balance) and stand up knee to chest (teach action of standing up)
- Wide legged forward fold C (prasarita padottanasana c(hamstrings).
- Add side to side shift (skandasana) for inner thigh stretch
- Utthita hasta padangustasana b (balance, external rotation). This is bird of paradise without the bind.
- Side angle pose (parsvakonsana) with teaching bind, use strap (flexion, external rotation, arms to bind, use strap)
- Peak! Bird of Paradise. Teach how to get up into it first, then play.
- Cool down should include outer hip stretches (those guys have worked to stabilize you!), perhaps a hamstring stabilizer like bridge.
Check out my sequence below. While I’m not teaching this exact sequence, it shows how I teach you to come up into the pose safely (at about 44 minutes) and will give a similar sequence for you to practice and explore.