In the yogic traditions, the peacock symbolizes beauty, strength, compassion, and the ability to destroy snakes or, more importantly, digest their venom. It is said that if you practice Mayurasana you will be able to digest the most toxic of poisons. Not that I’m suggesting you go out and down some arsenic, but your digestion will certainly be stimulated. This pose, featured in our Spring 2012 catalog, strengthens the digestive system, stimulates metabolism, and purges your body of toxins by massaging the digestive organs, increasing the blood circulation, and strengthening the core. The story goes that each snake the peacock destroyed represented an earthly attachment — think clothing, jewelry, cars, houses, etc. What do we really need in life? As you practice this pose, try to take it in not only as a physical practice, but a practice of cultivating a true spirit of being liberated from the “things” in your life and reconnecting with what matters to you — family, community, health, personal growth, etc.
BUILD YOUR BASE. For this pose, you need strong shoulders, wrists and arms. Yes, I said strong wrists. A big part of building wrist strength is engaging in the hands and fingers. The position of the wrists is a little awkward as the fingers face toward the feet instead of the head. I have seen variations with the fingers facing toward the head, but this is the traditional alignment. The next key step is keeping your arms engaged towards each other. Don’t let your elbows fly out to the side — they need to stay engaged toward the center.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE. I must sound like a broken record!! Core-core -core-core… There are infinite benefits to having a strong core. Your back will love you, food will be easier to digest, and of course you will feel amazing. The core is the center of your body — it is related to Manipura chakra. Manipura is the chakra of fire, of life force, of self identification. Connecting to the solar plexus helps you cultivate a healthy sense of self. It’s NOT about the six pack — that’s just a nice side affect — it’s about our ability to digest our experiences as well as our food. By connecting and moving from your center, you bring your body and mind into harmony. For this asana you need to engage your core to lift your legs off the ground and your torso up.
ENERGIZE YOUR BACK. A strong AND open back is key. You need to be able to keep drawing your shoulders back while you lift your legs and chest off the earth. Building a strong core will help build back strength and opening not just the low back, but the upper back will help with the lifting part.
HAVE FAITH: The biggest opening that needs to happen is in your mind. So keep that thought when you are telling yourself you can’t.
BREATHE. What’s the most important element of your yoga practice? BREATH! If you are not breathing, you are not present. Go as slowly as necessary to maintain your breathing at all times.
Preparing for Mayurasana
Here are a few simple WRIST EXERCISES to energize and open the wrists. Not only do we want to open them up, but we want to build strength. Whenever your hands are on the earth, root down through the base of the thumb and base of the pointer finger, gradually bringing weight into the outside edges of the hand as well.
Wrist Circles – Arms long in front of you, take your thumb into your palm and make a fist. Circle to the right and then to the left. Try to keep the forearms stable.
Flex Wrists Down and Up – Left arm long in front of you, flex your fingers up, palm facing foreword. Right hand pulls base of your fingers towards your body. Then flexing the left fingers down palm towards you. Take your right hand and press your knuckles towards you. Repeat on 2nd side.
Flex Wrists on Ground – To deepen the stretch, sit on the floor in Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) placing your hands on the floor with palms down, fingers facing you, heel of the hands away. Hold. For a deeper opening, place the fingertips at your hip crease, facing you, and base of the palms on your thighs. Hold.
Plank with Wrist Flex – To strengthen and open your wrists, start on your knees and rotate your hands backwards fingers towards your knees, heels of the hands away from your body, palms on the floor. Stay here or lift up into plank pose. Hold.
As you do each of these BACK STRENGTHENERS keep drawing your shoulders onto your back
Bhujangasana (Cobra) - Palms by your side, slightly back from your shoulders, press into the earth and lift your chest up. Draw your shoulders onto your back and pull the heart foreword. To build back strength, take the weight out of the hands.
Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) – Arms on the floor by your side, slowly lift your chest, arms, and legs up. Draw your shoulders onto your back and pull the heart foreword. Repeat to build strength.
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) - Lay on your stomach and draw your heels into your hips. Reach back for the outside of your ankles with your hands. To lift your torso up, kick into your hands with your ankles, drawing the heart foreword and shoulders onto your back.
Keep breathing as you strengthen your CORE!
Bicycle – Lay on your back and bring your knees and calves up to a 90 degree angle. Place your hands behind your head, elbows out. Extend the left leg and twist your torso and elbows towards the right bent knee. Come back to center, draw both knees together, then switch sides. Repeat.
Leg Lifts – Lay on your back, legs up at a 90 degrees. Slowly lower your right leg down to hover off the earth. You can have your leg at any height to adjust for your strength. Slowly draw it back up and switch. Head and shoulders can be up off the earth for more challenge. I promise, smiling makes it easier!
Keep your elbows drawing together the whole time as you work on these ARM STRENGTHENERS.
Dolphin Dog – Come into down dog and slowly lower down on to your forearms. Make sure to draw your elbows together and shoulders onto your back.
Forearm Plank with Block – Come to hands and knees, and lower down onto your forearms. If you want fire, bring a block in between your elbows and squeeze. Walk your knees back so you are in one long line from your knees to your crown. For more fire, lift up into plank, but keep squeezing the elbows together!!
MAYURASANA (PEACOCK POSE)
Step 1 – Don’t freak out! The farthest you can fall is the height of your forearms… so that’s eight-ish inches.
Step 2 – Bring your knees to the earth and elbows into your gut. Lower your palms down onto the earth, pointing your fingers towards you and the heels of your hands away. Slowly bring weight onto your hands, starting to extend your knees back (one long line from your crown) and shoulders and head foreword. Elbows need to be at a 90 degree angle. If you let your elbows shoot back you will have no support — you have to lean foreword.
Step 3 – If you feel stable with your knees on the floor move to the next step which is lifting the knees off the floor, coming into plank pose with your elbows in your gut.
Step 4 – If you feel comfortable there, start to lean forward (maybe taking the head to the earth) to lift your back legs off the floor. Engage the legs, squeezing them together, and lift from the core to come all the way up, like the photo of Drisana above.
Variation with Padma (Lotus) or Baddha Konasana (Cobbler’s Pose) – Sometimes it’s easier to lift up if you bring your knees closer in to your body. Try bringing the soles of your feet together into Baddha Konasana to lift up. Or, if you have open hips, wrap your legs together in lotus.
One-Armed Variation (Pungu Mayurasana) – Yes, I said it — one arm!! For this variation, the hand that is on the earth has fingers facing foreword. Following the same process, start on your knees and bring the left elbow into your gut. Slowly lower down, using the fingertips of your right hand to support while you lift up your torso and legs, and gradually take your supporting fingers off of the earth.
P.S. Want me to help you with this pose in person? Then come to the Soulshine Retreat in Bali February 5th – 12th, 2012! Click here for more info »
HANNAH FRANCO is a yoga teacher and designer for Athleta. She began her exploration of yoga during her second year of art school. The incredible feeling of presence and lack of stress that unfolded after her exposure to yoga led her to direct every aspect of her life towards it. She took a transformational trip to India to deepen her studies in 2008, where she was certified. Her focus as a teacher is to bring community together and harmonize the way we all interact with compassion and love. Her classes are a blend of Hatha yoga and Vinyasa, and are suitable for all levels with an emphasis on creativity, steadiness and presence. For more from Hannah, visit HannahFrancoYoga.com »