2.06.2012

Asana of the Week: Pincha Mayurasana


Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose) is a challenging inverted arm balance that demands strong shoulders, abdominals, and, most of all, focus.

Pincha can be especially intimidating because the face is so close to the floor.  There may be a fear of falling on one's face as if the arms are not strong enough, but, in reality, if you should fall out of the posture, you are more likely to flop over than to collapse because integrated core strength is much more crucial to sustaining this balance than powerful arms.

That being said, don't flop over; which is not to say, "don't fall."  By all means, fall!  Fall your little heart out.  Just don't flip or flop.  Tuck and roll.  Set your head down and roll out.  You'll be fine.  If you don't believe me, keep practicing Sirsasana (Headstand) and Dolphin Pose until you feel ready.

So, now that you know how to fall, let's talk about how NOT to fall.  Start with a solid foundation.  From a kneeling position, set the elbows shoulder-width on the mat.  First, lay the hands down with the palms up to encourage the shoulders to broaden.  Then turn the palms down, spread the hands, ground the wrists, and bring readiness to the fingertips.  Tuck your toes under, lift your hips, and walk your feet in as far as you can.  Try to position the shoulders over the elbows as in the full posture.  Set your gaze somewhere south of the thumbs so your neck is not overextended, then lift one leg high in the air, keeping the hips square.

With an inhalation, push off gently with the back foot as you pull up with the lifted leg.  Do not kick or swing.  Remember: small movements.  Don't overdo it.  You will end up in something like this:


From there, slowly scissor the legs together at the center, point the feet, and lift the toes to the sky.  It is common in those with tight shoulders for the elbows to slide apart and the hands to smush together.  You can put a book or block between the hands to stabilize your foundation, OR (listen up, Ashtangis!) you can try this fabulous cheat via Swenson: put the tips of the thumbs together.

A solid drishti is essential.  Find a pulled thread on your practice rug, a piece of lint, or (my favorite) an errant dog hair, and stare that sucker down.   Remember your bandhas and don't forget to breathe.

12 comments:

  1. Lovely post, thanks!!

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  2. This was a very helpful post. It was refreshing and helped me approach it from a different mindset
    Thank you

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  3. Thanks, this was useful! I'm playing around with this one but couldn't quite figure it out - this helps!

    Just a question though: My hands do creep together the way you say - do you know what kind of things I could do to fix that? I assume it's tightness in the shoulders - is that what you mean by saying "tension in the shoulders"? I've been wondering how to open them up to create a more stable foundation, and will try the Swenson trick too, though I doubt my thumbs will be strong enough to withstand the inward pressure...maybe a book would be better :)

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    1. Hi Bibi,

      Two postures that are great for opening the shoulders in preparation for Pincha are Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Garudasana (Eagle Pose). Also, be sure to practice lots of Dolphin pose to build strength and awareness. You can use a book or block between your hands and, if you have a strap, you can secure a strap around the upper arms to prevent the elbows from spreading apart.

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  4. Thanks for the tips. Can you do a similar one on handstand?

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    1. Hi, Anon. Will do, as soon as I have similarly helpful things to say about handstand.

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  5. Hello! Little confused about the head position/drishti in this one. I've seen it taught (and in pictures) with more of a scorpian pose head (looking down at the floor and cervical little bent). But Swenson seems to have the spine a little more vertical (especially cervical) with drishti at the nose. You seem a little in between the two extremes.

    I teach this pose in class and it seems easier for beginners to look down at the floor in front (so bending their necks a bit) and with the block in between their first finger/thumb so they can get the shoulder alignment. But where to go from beginner? Your thoughts/wisdom pls!

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    1. Hi Domestic,

      Sorry for the late response. Just noticed your comment. A forward or "upward" gaze (toward the hands) tends to result in a more backbendy Pincha, which is generally discouraged in Ashtanga circles. Since the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine are closely linked (they tend to mirror the shape of each other), keeping the gaze low means a longer, straighter neck and a longer, more supported lumbar.

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  6. For those of us who came to yoga from weight lifting and have strength but little flexibility the standing split aspect of this posture is almost a deal breaker. I cannot get my leg up past horizontal. I keep trying, working in dolphin, lifting alternate legs. Any tips for tighties?

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    1. Hi Anon,

      Some degree of hamstring and shoulder flexibility is absolutely necessary for practicing this posture -- long hamstrings for the entry, and open shoulders for the hold. Those of us who are naturally strong tend to rely on our strength (myself included), clinging to the notion that if only we could be strong enough, the more subtle elements like flexibility and balance could not possibly hold us back.

      This is a mistaken idea. If a lack of flexibility prevents us from entering a posture with grace or holding a posture with ease, then we are not ready for that posture, no matter how strong we may be.

      That being said, the "standing split aspect" is not an essential component of Pincha. It is simply an easier way for SOME to find that point of balance. If you can do it without scissoring the legs as shown, all the better.

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    2. Hi Anon,

      I taught yoga to a group of soldiers a while back, who similarly did a lot of weight lifting and gym work but had super tight shoulders and hamstrings. If you have good core strength, you can practice lifting into this pose without needing to have as much flexibility in the hamstrings as the "standing split" would need.

      The trick is to find the right balance between a lift (or a light kick) that will get you enough height, while still allowing your core to stabilise you in the balance so you don't topple over backwards. In short, you need to be able to do this while maintaining control with the core.

      That said, be VERY careful if you try this - practice with a spotter or use a wall behind you (i.e. lifting up towards a wall) until you are confident with the pose.

      You can also place your feet together on an exercise ball, and practice lifting up with the legs together. Again, if you have good core and shoulder strength this is a great option for working towards a nice, stable lift. Hope that helped! And as Megan said, keep working on lengthening those hammies - it will come slowly but surely!

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  7. Hi Megan,

    How are you? I am now really trying to do the Pincha Mayurasan in a one legged way. I am feeling comfortable. Do you think practising one legged is going to be beneficial?

    Regards
    CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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