Friday, May 4, 2012

Asana Research Lab: Marichyasana

Marichi, son of Brahma, namesake of one killer asana.

If you're anything like me and have tight hips and shoulders from years of cycling and desk work (and neglecting stretching them out daily), you probably find Marichyasana as challenging as I do. When I started my Ashtanga practice, I thought it was a new pose to me but after a little while it dawned on me that I had practiced a variation of it for years in "regular" Hatha practice.

Rodney Yee always calls it "Sage Pose", which kind of makes sense, as the "Marichi" in "Marichyasana" was the son of Brahma (the creator in Hindu mythology), the original man and one of the original Rishis — or sages, responsible for channelling the Vedic hymns. So, he's sort of like Jesus crossed with Adam. Or something. The complex Hindu mythology is a whole 'nother rabbit hole that I won't open up here.

Regardless of what you call it, you'll most likely encounter a version of it in most yoga practices, with the beginner posture looking something like this:

"Sage Pose"

Practiced like this, you're going to be working mostly on the spinal twist aspect of Marichi, and this is a good place to start if you're new to yoga or haven't yet worked on deeper twists yet or have tight hips. When this feels easy and you feel like you can take the twist deeper, try working the non-supportive arm to the outside of your bent leg, bending it at the elbow, maintaining a straight spine and using a folded blanket or blocks if you need to. This should look something like this (bent arm can point up or down):

Add props if you need to!
I don't recommend practicing in such dour decor however.

You can also take the bent leg over the extended or bent bottom leg which is a good IT band stretch:

Another version of "Sage Pose"

All of these variations can be considered practice for the Ashtanga version of "Sage Pose", Marichyasana, which is actually a sequence of four postures which themselves are progressive in nature — Marichi A works to open the hips and shoulders:
Marichyasana A
Notice how much the bent leg's hip and both shoulders
need to open up in the full expression of this posture

Marichi B then introduces the half lotus leg, further opening the hips while continuing to open the shoulders:

Marichyasana B
Bringing the bent leg into half lotus encourages further hip opening

Once you've mastered B, you then move on to C, which introduces the twist:

Marichyasana C
Notice how deep the twist needs to be here compared to the "Sage Pose" variations

Marichyasana D then brings it all together with the extreme hip opening of the half lotus leg of B and the deep spinal twist of C:

Marichyasana D
See his little toes poking up there?

I hope all of this illustrates just how well designed the Ashtanga Series is. It's one of the reasons I love it so much — it really appeals to the rational design-oriented part of my brain.

The Primary Series, as the name implies, is preparation for the next five series, and within this first series there is preparation and progression. The poses leading up to Marichyasana will help you realize version A, and version A will help you realize version B and on and on.

Regardless of where you are in the sequence, the work you do on the mat is preparation for whatever life off the mat will throw you. In cultivating the postures we need to practice patience, discipline, diligence, presence and self-love. I like to think we call it practice, not because we're practicing yoga, but because we're practicing for life.



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