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I was musing over my tattoos recently and realized that most of them depict birds—owls, hummingbirds, even peacock feathers. I had never actually known that I had such an affinity for winged creatures until that moment.
Although in a lot of ways, it makes such sense. One of my guiding principles is freedom. The soaring flight of birds evokes the Sanskrit word moksha, which is usually translated as “liberation” or “release.” Moksha, to me, captures the transcendence of the ego and the impermanent nature of reality as well as a sense of moving towards enlightenment, feeling connected to everything in the universe.
Certain yoga asanas bring about this feeling of freedom for me, including Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise), whose Sanskrit names translate to “paradise” (Svarga) and “twice born” (Dvija). Although the shape of the pose resembles the namesake Southeast Asian flower, I find that coming into this balancing posture helps us resemble our Highest Self. First, we must recognize when we are bound by limited thoughts, doubts, and comparisons to others. Then, with small steps, we can challenge any restrictions in our body with curiosity, which may allow us to eventually experience a posture that we had perhaps never thought feasible.
In Svarga Dvijasana, you learn the relationship between exerting effort and allowing for ease. It’s a pose that can help you fly. You’re inching toward this in each moment, even as you’re reassessing where you are, challenging yourself to continue, and finding your own stability from within. You simply have to allow it.
A sequence to come into Bird of Paradise
Take your feet as wide as the mat and angle your toes slightly outward as you bend your knees and squat. You can bring your hips down towards your heels or keep your hips in line with your knees and place your hands on your inner thighs. (If your heels do not connect to the Earth, place a blanket under your heels.) Bring your hands to Prayer Pose at your chest and lengthen the spine. Connect your upper arms to your inner knees. Let your weight be evenly distributed between your feet.
From a squatting position, turn the edges of your feet parallel to the long edges of the mat and come to Standing Forward Bend with knees slightly bent. Pause here. To release your shoulders, interlace your hands behind your back. Cross the thumbs and, while resting the thumbs on the tailbone, bend the elbows and hug them together. You should feel the shoulder blades hug the spine. You can keep your hands on the lower back and focus on elbows hugging, as the clavicle bones broaden. If you do extend the knuckles to the sky, you can separate the palms and keep the grip tight. For more of a stretch keep the palms touching. (If this clasp is difficult, try bringing your palms to touch in prayer hands behind your back.) Try to keep your wrist creases straight and a soft bend in the elbows. When the knuckles reach up and over the head, the front of the shoulder heads stay lifted. With your head heavy and your weight in your toes, move your chest gently toward your thighs.
Three-Legged Dog to Shoulder Crunch
From Standing Forward Bend, step back to Downward-Facing Dog. Raise your right leg high. If you like, bend your knee and let your foot fall behind your back. As you exhale, shift your shoulders forward and bring your knee to your outer right shoulder as you ground into the mat with your fingertips. Inhale back to Three-Legged Dog. Then exhale and bring your knee to your armpit. Do this a few times.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
From Three-Legged Dog, step your right foot to the outside of your right wrist. Turn your heel in a little with your toes pointed slightly outward or, for more sensation, keep your foot parallel to the long side of the mat. Stay on your hands or come to your forearms or bring blocks beneath each forearm. Keep your back toes curled under and your straight leg hip lifted. Tuck your chin slightly and let your spine be long.
Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Splits), Variation
From Lizard Pose, come on to your hands. Start to straighten your right leg, sliding your heel forward if needed. Come high onto your fingertips or bring blocks beneath your hands. Make sure your hips remain stacked over your bent knee and your back toes are curled. Flex your front foot and exhale as you fold forward, hinging at your hips and moving your heart toward your shins.
Malasana (Garland Pose)
From Half Splits, bend your front knee and slide your foot back. Step your back foot forward into a Squat with your feet as wide as the mat and your toes angled slightly outward. Bring your hands to Prayer Pose at your chest and lengthen the spine. Connect your upper arms to your inner knees. Bring your right hand to your right knee. Keep your weight evenly distributed between your feet. Inhale and rotate to the right to stretch through your side. If possible, reach your right arm up with a slight bend in your elbow. (Alternatively, reach your right palm behind you and touch your tailbone with the back of your left palm. If accessible, you can half clasp the left hip crease or thigh.) Stay here or move on to Bird of Paradise.
From a squatting position, lift your hips to the same height as your knees. Round the spine and reach your right arm under your right knee and connect your inner knee and thigh to your outer shoulder and armpit. Relax your right shoulder and bring your right hand closer to your knee than your sitting bone, palm facing away from you. Bend your left elbow and bring your left hand down. Clasp your left wrist with your right hand or hold onto your fingertips. (If your hands don’t touch, use a strap or hold onto your clothes.) Start to straighten both knees. Stay here or continue on Bird of Paradise.
From a wide forward fold, shimmy your left foot under your left hip and shift your gaze forward. Shift your weight into your left foot and come onto the ball of your right foot. Hug your right thigh into your body. Press down through your left big toe mound and start to straighten your left leg as you lift your right foot off the mat. Your right knee will be resting against the back of your upper arm. Adjust your grip if you need. Keep your gaze straight ahead as you continue to straighten your standing leg. Push through your lifted heel as you press your inner right thigh into the back of your shoulder. Reach your foot up and to the right and spread your toes. When you stand tall, your shoulder serves to open your hip into expansion. Calmly gaze forward or turn your head in the opposite direction of your lifted leg in an experience of grace and levity. Keep both legs strong.
To come out of the pose, maintain the clasp and slowly bring your gaze forward as you bend your standing knee and lower back into a squat. Release your clasp and bring your hands together at your chest. Repeat the poses on the other side.
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