How to Do Mermaid Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

How to Do Mermaid Pose
Mermaid Pose. Ann Pizer

Also Known As: Pigeon variation

Targets: Hip opener, heart-opener, backbend

Level: Advanced

Pigeon Pose opens up in stages. If you can't quite see how you'd get from the Pigeon prep version you've probably done in yoga classes to the extreme backbend of One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), Mermaid Pose provides the missing link. Even if you're not quite ready to move into Mermaid, start to experiment with engaging your legs and grabbing hold of your back foot.

Benefits

This pose stretches the hips, quads, groin, and shoulders. It is also a backbend that opens the heart. In preparing for this pose, you will develop great flexibility in your hips, shoulders, and back. You will also challenge your balance. Practicing this pose will help you build even greater flexibility, which will halp you throughout your daily life.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Begin in Pigeon prep with your right leg forward. 
  2. Bend your back knee (the left side in this case) and grab hold of your left foot with your left hand. 
  3. Slide your foot into the crook of your left elbow. You can stop here or progress to the next step.
  4. Reach your right arm straight up toward the ceiling. Bend your elbow, drop your right hand behind your head
  5. Bring your hands to meet. Press the back of your head into your right arm.
  6. Try not to fall over onto the right side of your butt. Keep your chest pointing toward the front of your mat.
  7. Release your foot, slowly lower your leg with control, and repeat the pose with the left knee forward.

There is one major alignment point that's worth going over. As you transition from the relaxed forward fold of Pigeon prep to the more active upright versions of the pose (Mermaid and One-Legged King Pigeon), you have to change the way that your legs are interacting with the floor. In forward-folding Pigeon, your legs are basically melting into the floor as you try to release any tension in your hips. When you come upright, you need to change the trajectory of your legs from down into the floor to up toward the ceiling. This requires you to engage your thighs strongly and draw them toward one another isometrically. As you do this, your hips will probably also come further off the floor. That's OK. It gives your Mermaid some stability so that you are not rolling onto and thereby resting on the butt check of your front leg.

Common Mistakes

To prevent injury and get the most from this pose, avoid these errors.

Trying the Pose Too Soon

This is an advanced pose that should only be practiced once you have mastered Pigeon Pose. Some regard it as more advanced that One-Legged King Pigeon Pose and say not to go on to Mermaid until you have mastered that pose as well. Mermaid requires very open hips and you will need to ensure you have done the preparatory poses to improve flexibility in that area. Otherwise, you can strain your hip flexors and may even injure your knees by placing stress on them.

Forcing the Backbend

You must be flexible enough so the back and shoulders allow the chest to come forward. If you try to force it, the back will be put into an awkward position that could lead to injury. You will gain flexibility over time as you practice poses that improve upper body flexibility. Do not rush it.

Modifications and Variations

This advanced pose takes steady practice to achieve and you may need to modify it before progressing.

Need a Modification?

If you are a beginner, stop after step two. Work on pulling your foot toward your body to stretch the quad.

Or, reach your right hand around the right side of your body to grasp your left ankle. With both hands holding the ankle, kick back into the left foot. 

Up for a Challenge?

Mermaid Pose is good preparation and point of entry for One-Legged King Pigeon Pose.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this pose if you have any knee, ankle, hip, or shoulder. You should not feel any stress on the knee. If you feel any joint or back pain during this pose, release the pose.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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