Mermaid Pose is a special asana in that it allows one to both “squeeze into” and “open out” to life. It is characterised by feelings of compression and release and, as such, beautifully expresses that balanced yogic state of serenity, duality and equanimity – the calm of the ocean that’s the playground of the mythical, mysterious mermaid.
One variation of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) is known as Mermaid Pose because, in it, the legs are beautifully shaped like a mermaid’s tail. Based on the backbending sequence of varying levels of difficulty, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is a deep backbend that puffs out and opens the chest, making the yogi resemble a pigeon.
This variation – with the front leg ahead of the same-side buttock, with the back foot inside the elbow and the hands clasped behind the head – is an intermediary asana providing a wonderful side stretch that deeply massages into the kidneys, opens out the groin, releases tension and increases flow from the glands under the armpits.
Moving into the preparation of Mermaid Pose requires steady balance while curving outwards and backwards and at the same time keeping the hips centrally aligned. The hip is in a flexed and externally rotated position, which is unusual in backbends and often creates difficulty in balancing and aligning the pelvis.
This pose should be practised in conjunction with variations and other asanas to open your hips and prepare your backbending for the complete pose.
Suggested lead-in asanas include Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasa) and Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
Mermaid Pose stretches the thighs, hamstrings and groins, stimulating the internal organs. This pose should be approached with caution: be careful not to hurry into it and remember that most people are not able to perform even this intermediary pose.
Start by assuming a kneeling position and sit back onto your heels, keeping your spine erect and elongated. Extend your right leg back so you are in a half split position and face your left knee outward towards the floor.
Take your right hand and bring your right foot forward into the right thigh so that your right thigh is faced down to the floor.
You may need to lift up off your hips slightly to get a comfortable seat, keeping the thigh parallel to the ground, as you lower the hips towards the floor again, making sure that both buttocks are aligned and seated on the floor.
Place your right foot inside the crook of your right arm and, as you inhale, lift your left arm over and behind the head, bringing your hands together to clasp each other behind or next to the head.
Experiment with how open your groin can be as you stretch it out further while keeping the hips square (forward facing).
The left hip should come forward as the right hip moves back. If your hips don’t quite make it to the ground, place a blanket or cushion under the right hip. Be mindful of keeping your chest lifted and bringing the shoulder blades in toward the spine to keep yourself as upright as possible.
Hold and breathe into the asana for 30 seconds, experiencing the compression and release, keeping the mind in the moment by concentrating on your breathing.
To come out of the asana, release the hands and extend your right leg frontwards to your left leg and come briefly into Dandasana (Seated Staff Pose). Keep your legs straight and forward and your spine erect and aligned. Repeat the pose on the other side.
This pose affects the whole body as it strengthens, stretches, and tones the spinal column and extends the chest and rib cage.
It also reinforces and stretches the muscles of the groin and hip joints. It stimulates the glandular system and nerves around the spine assisting the metabolism. The focal point is the cervical and sacral vertebrae. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana and its
variations stretches and limbers the hips and legs while relaxing the inner thigh (abductor) muscles.
Contra-indications and Precautions
Tight hips or thighs
Many beginner students are unable to grasp either the right foot or the hands behind their head and in this instance a strap with a buckle can help. Slip a small loop over the right foot and tighten the strap over the ball of the foot. Get into position and bring the left arm behind the head and take hold of the strap instead of the foot.