Kapinjalasana (Partridge Pose) is one of the postures that just makes you stop and laugh.
It’s a challenge pose woven into a challenge pose but when you look at it you see simple beauty and poetry. Yoga has a way of tricking us like that.
So, I’ve put it out there—this pose is doubly challenging. We’ve got the strength and balance aspect of Vasisthasana combined with the fully rotated shoulder backbend that you see in a King Dancer or One-Legged Pigeon Pose. No biggie, right?!
To reach the final pose, we start simple. Here we’ll break it down to explore the strength of Side Plank, the beginnings of adding a backbend to that pose, and then the ability to practice the shoulder rotation in the full pose without the fear of falling. Once these all make more sense, you’ll be ready to go! As with all backbends, remember there is a huge dose of surrender that needs to happen. Keep your stability and strength in the Side Plank, but melt and release your heart and shoulders to open into your backbend.
Begin in Plank Pose. Move your left hand to the center of the front of the mat, tip to rest on the outside edge of your left foot, and stack your right foot directly on top of the left to come into Side Plank (Vasisthasana). Make sure your left shoulder is stacking directly over the wrist and that your right arm is extending straight up. Keeping your gaze down, lift your right leg a few inches off the left leg. Bend your right knee, bringing the heel in toward your bottom. Internally rotate your top arm and slowly reach back for your right foot. As you do this there is a major tendency to fall backward. To prevent this from happening, push your pelvis forward to counteract the movement of reaching back. Once you have a grip on your foot, push it back into your hand as you continue to press the pelvis forward. This creates the backbend (similar to the shape of Bow Pose). If possible, push the entire sole of your base foot into the ground like you’re trying to stand on it. This will elevate your hips and fire your obliques. You can keep the gaze down for balance or play with looking sideways or leaning your head and throat back toward your foot. To release, either move back through Side Plank or you can drop directly into Wild Thing for a yummy backbend.
Time to understand the fully rotated backbend without the extra challenge of balance. Lie down on your belly with a strap handy. Make a lasso with the strap just big enough that you can slip the ball of your foot through. Bend the right knee and lasso that lifted foot, draping the excess strap over your right shoulder. Prop yourself up onto your left forearm like in Sphinx Pose. Look over your shoulder and rotate your right palm up toward the sky. Hold the strap as close as you comfortably can from underneath so the palm is still up. Keep in mind the closer you grab to your foot, the deeper the backbend, so you might want to ease your way into this. Rotate your elbow out, up, and in, letting your shoulder rest in its socket (don’t let your shoulders creep up on your ears) and hug your elbow tight to your face. Soften the inner shoulder but stay long through the outer arm. Gently press your foot back into the strap to trigger a deeper backbend (if you feel this in your knee, release a bit). Keep your left leg straight and push the toes down into the ground as an anchor. Take 5 breaths then switch legs.
Time to use two fabulous props: the wall and a strap. We’ll repeat the actions of Step 2 but this time we’ll put it into Side Plank. Since this will dramatically up the ability to balance, we’ll use the wall as an aid in stabilizing the pose.
Have your lasso ready over the ball of your right foot. Go to a wall and place the big toe edge of your right foot into the place where the ground and floorboard meet. Lift your hips up into Side Plank checking to makes sure the shoulder and wrist of the bottom arm stack. Lift your right leg up, bend the knee, and begin to reach for your foot so you can grab the strap from underneath. If it feels right, shimmy your hand down the strap closer to the foot. Once you have a good grip, gently press the hips forward as you start to rotate your arm out, up, and in. It will feel like you’re trying to pull the foot toward your head. Remember the power of your hips! Send them forward to deepen the pose and root deeply into your ground foot to create stability and strength. Let your chest surrender and curl so it doesn’t fold into your lower back. Hold for a few breaths, then move through Side Plank or Wild Thing to release. Switch sides.
Time to give it a shot without a strap! You’ll know you’re ready to try this when you can walk your hand down the strap and grab your foot with ease. Until that happens, keep using the strap. (No shame—this is how you improve!)
Begin in Side Plank with your gaze down on your bottom hand. Lift your right leg off the left, and lightly bend the knee toward your bottom. If needed, you can bend the left leg slightly for more balance. Flex your right foot so you have something solid to reach for. With your palm up, grab the pinky edge of your right foot, holding onto as many toes as you can. Once you have a nice handful of foot, begin the arm rotation: out, up and in. If the base leg is bent, work it back into a straight position and work the sole of the bottom foot flat into the ground to give you more of a foundation. Breath here or begin to reach the crown of your head back toward to curl the heart space open. Breathe! Take as many breaths as you can and if you start to fall, just let yourself go into Wild Thing!
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and author of Rodale’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga . Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website. Come practice with Kathryn on retreat in February in Maui, Hawaii.