Getting to Know the Peacock

mayurasana


One of my favorite detoxifying poses is Mayurasana – the peacock. Mayurasana is more than just an impress-your-friends-at-parties yoga pose – it is one of the original Hatha Yoga practices – one of the first 15 poses ever written down. The Hatha Yogis understood its tremendous health benefits. Here’s what Svatmarama wrote about mayurasana in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

Mayurasana quickly alleviates all diseases like enlargement of the glands, dropsy (edema) and other stomach disorders. It rectifies imbalance of the humours (vata, pitta and kapha). It reduces to ashes all food taken indiscriminately, kindles the gastric fire and enables destruction of kalakuta (toxins). – HYP 1.31

This pose is named Peacock not only because of the shape of the pose, but because its strong, tonifying effect on the digestive system. Do mayurasana and you can have a stomach like a peacock’s – Huh?

I realize that probably doesn’t mean much. Most of us in the west haven’t spent a lot of time observing peacocks. In India it is understood that peacocks can eat a wide range of foods including poisonous snakes, insects and scorpions. And they are able to digest the poison of these animals without harm. I’m not suggesting practicing this pose should inspire you to partake in a peacock’s dietary habits – but it will help you improve your digestion. Here are some of the benefits that have been ascribed to this pose by yoga masters:

•    Powerful digestive tonic
•    Promotes elimination of toxins, especially from the liver
•    Invigorates the entire body
•    Increases blood circulation throughout the abdominal organs
•    Relieves many diseases of digestion
•    Massages and strengthens the stomach and spleen
•    Can help those with diabetes
•    Revitalizes the pancreas
•    Decreases acidity in the blood, especially when performed in the morning
•    Strengthens wrists, elbows and shoulders

Contraindications
Any powerful yoga practice should be used with respect. If you have wrist, elbow or shoulder issues, be very careful about placing your entire body weight in your wrists. Some other common sense contraindications include: pregnancy, menstruation and serious intestinal problems. It also should be avoided if you are dealing with an ulcer, hernia, heart disease, high blood pressure, brain tumors and ear, eye, or nose infections. Because this pose is deeply detoxifying and can release built up toxins into the system, notice if you don’t feel well after practicing it. Reduce the amount of time and the repetitions of this pose and work on cleansing through diet before building up to longer holds.

Instructions

1.     From a kneeling position, take your knees wide apart and bring your outer wrists together in front of you.
2.     Place the palms on the floor between your thighs with the fingers pointing back towards your body. Draw your elbows together.
3.     Rest your navel on top of your elbows. Place your forehead on the floor.
4.     Stretch your legs out behind you and rest on the balls of your feet. Press the knee caps into the backs of the legs.  
5.     Then lift your head off the floor, and press your crown forward.
6.     Lift your legs off the floor, so they come parallel to the floor or higher.
7.     Hold for 30 seconds.
8.     Rest in Child’s Pose or Hero Pose for a few breaths.
9.     Repeat 4 times.

Modifications
1.     Take your head off the floor and rest on your elbows without trying to lift the legs.  
2.     Rather than stretching your legs back behind you, lift them out to the sides, with the knees bent. Flex the feet.
3.     Lift your legs up but keep your forehead on the floor.
4.     Place the hands a few inches apart with the fingers pointing to the sides rather than back.