Yoga asana is often erroneously thought of as dealing only with flexibility. In fact increasing ones level of flexibility is only then functional if this increase is matched by a similar increase of your strength. Ideal for increasing strength is the practise of arm balances. Today we will look at Mayurasana (peacock posture). Since this posture has rather complex sequential movements I left in this description the traditional vinyasa count that is featured in my text Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series.
We begin this and the next two postures with vinyasa one in Samasthiti for already described reasons. Exhaling, hop your feet hip width apart and bend forward.
Place your hands between your feet, palms facing down and fingers pointing backwards. Inhaling, straighten your back and look up.
Exhaling, fold forward.
Inhaling, raise your chest again and look up, arriving in the same position as vinyasa one.
Exhaling, hop back as if entering Chaturanga Dandasana. Bend your elbows in transit and bring them as close together as possible, ideally they would touch each other. Failure to do so means you will need to adduct the humeri (arm bones) the whole time, which means engaging the pectoralis major muscle. The weight of the chest will have the tendency to drive the arms apart unless you can place your chest on top of your arms rather than in between them.
To enter Mayurasana the forearms must be firmly planted onto the chest and abdomen. This will give you the advantage of not having to the flex the ribcage at the outset of the posture, which will make it easier later on to lift your chest and shoulders away from the floor. Those whose centre of gravity is lower down, often females and people with long legs, need to make the thorax hyperkyphotic to place their elbows as low down as possible against the contracted rectus abdominis muscle. This contraction acts as armour for the abdominal organs and provides a stable platform on which to mount the arms. Assume now a right angle between arms and forearms. Consciously engage and co-contract all stabilizers of the shoulder girdle and joints before you raise your weight into the air.
Inhaling, shift your centre of gravity forward, engage your back extensors and lift up into what looks like a suspended Shalabhasana. Shifting your weight forward in this position means to partially extend your elbows. The lower down the centre of gravity in your body is (when standing) the more you have to lift your chest forward in Mayurasana and extend your elbows to lift your feet of the floor. Bring your feet together and point them.
If you find it difficult to lift up, keep first your head down and lift your feet only for five breaths. Once you have mastered this lift your head by shifting your weight forward more.
If you still encounter problems, look at the following scenarios.
- Make sure that your elbows don’t come apart, what will make it much harder to lift. Strongly engaging pectoralis major will ensure that the elbows stay together.
- On hot days your elbows may slip because you are sweating. In this case place fabric between your elbows and abdomen to provide traction.
- Excess adipose tissue on thighs and buttocks will make you ‘bottom heavy’ and thus you will have to lunge forward by extending you elbows more. This will make the posture much more difficult. If this is the case dispose of excess adipose tissue.
- Difficulties in lifting up can be caused by weakness of your back extensors but even the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and hamstrings contribute to the lifting. Put more emphasis into practicing Shalabhasana.
- Shifting your weight forward on slowly extending elbows needs considerable strength of arms and shoulders. If lacking here, practise jumping through from Downward Dog to Dandasana. Perform this movement with great passion, very slowly, gliding through Lollasana without touching down, into a suspended Dandasana, while still inhaling. Lower down only once the exhalation commences.
- The abdominals need to provide a strong base to balance on. They are also important as antagonists of your back extensors. To strengthen your abdominals hold Navasana longer and put more emphasis on clearing the floor when jumping through and jumping back.
Once you find Mayurasana easy, lift as high as you can and straighten your legs. Make sure that your shoulders don’t round and collapse down towards the floor. To do so would mean to court an imbalance of your shoulder muscles as the more forward and down your shoulders will be the more emphasis will be shifted towards the pectoralis muscles which bear already the brunt of this posture. For a more holistic approach to using your shoulders, lift them away from the floor. This is achieved by drawing the shoulder blades down the back and in towards the spine, using latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and lower trapezius. Make also sure that your shoulderblades do not have a winged appearance in this posture. To prevent this, suck the medial borders of the scapulae into the chest by engaging serratus anterior and subscapularis.
If you have excess capacity in the posture, engage your erector spinae even more and arch up into a suspended Shalabhasana. This is the only posture apart from Shalabhasana in which we fully engage erector spinae. Contrary to common perception the full engagement of erector spinae although a back extensor, prevents back bending by drawing the spinous processes towards each other, thus shortening the back. As the erector spinae is therefore somewhat shunned by the astute yogi, we should engage it in Mayurasana to its maximum capacity.
Look towards your nose and stay for five breaths.
Exhaling, lower your feet down.
Warm-up and research posture: Shalabhasana with arms extended overhead, if that’s not enough, lie on your belly, place your feet under a sofa and raise a barbell with your arms.
Inhaling, place your feet on the floor and lift into what resembles an Upward Dog with your hands still in Mayurasana position.
Exhale into a Downward Dog-like position apart from keeping your hands in place.
Inhaling jump forward to standing, repeating vinyasa three of Mayurasana.
Exhaling, bend forward, repeating vinyasa two of Mayurasana.
Inhaling, come up and hop your feet together, returning to Samastithi.
This is an excerpt from my 2009 textbook Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series.