I love the name of this posture. I love it because of the way it symbolizes the lightness of a bird and the magic of lifting upward to reach the stars. But coming to actually feel like this is something else. It’s definitely not an easy pose and while some students may have the natural flexibility to shape their leg over their shoulders most of us have to work toward it.
In this sense, there is no real magic as it is a journey of discovering where you land.
I began practicing this posture as I was learning the backbends of yoga. I felt it was a way to counter and neutralize the deeper backbends. But I also like this pose because it has three separate parts that come together.
Here’s a way I discovered to potentially dismantle the posture so you can practice it.
First, opening the hips is key to the series of the single-leg-behind-the-head pose. This pose opens the low back, chest and knees. A good way of working towards this is learning the splits, konasana (the angle pose) and the half lotus forward bend. I’ve made several youtube videos that focus on this, one of which is called, Opening to the splits. Click the link to watch it.
Many students have often asked me if half lotus is necessary. I feel it is the gateway to opening the lower back (not only the hips) and removing unwanted pressure from the knees. There are a lot of great ways to prepare for this, which does not come from bending your knee into the posture. I personally did a lot of work on my legs and hips before going into half or full lotus using supta padangushtasna (click to view the video). Working on your legs will in turn help to lengthen the muscles and gives you more space to rotate the hips.
Second, arm strength. Believe it or not this is not the hardest part but actually opening the hips. A lot of this pose is more about balance and leverage than strength. Learning to practice plank, arm pressure pose and other arm strengthening poses help a lot. A posture that will indirectly give you more confidence is the headstand.
Lastly, once you start to move the leg safely behind your head, you can start to bring the other elements together. This video shows you a transition including a more advanced way of entering another arm posture called astavakrasana.
The journey is important than actually ‘getting’ the leg behind you or not. I am a believer that many people can learn it even if only partially. I myself worked on lotus, forward bends and even twists to open the outer hips for over seven years. Failing any injuries or knee issues when your lower back opens the legs and the hips also extend.
The rest is practice and finding your way.
© Copyright of Heather (Morton) van Hettema, The Yoga Way, 2017. All written rights reserved.