Did “The Little Mermaid” inspire you to have a dramatic, wave-coordinated moment like Ariel? The next time you’re in yoga class, you just might have your chance to become “part of that world.” Cue: Mermaid Pose.
Here’s everything you need to know about this deep hip and heart opener that’s Disney-princess-level pretty.
The full version of the true Pigeon Pose is an intense, advanced backbend that involves squaring your hips and touching the toes on your back foot to the top of your head.
To create something a little more approachable, modern yogis came up with Mermaid Pose. Unlike traditional poses, this move doesn’t have its own Sanskrit name. It’s a variation that allows for a less intense backbend and a more forgiving position for the hips. (But don’t worry, it’ll still look cool on Instagram.)
Make sure your body is fully warmed up before you start. (You don’t wanna go pulling a fin.) Here’s what it’s all a-boat.
Start by entering Pigeon Pose
Here’s how to do it:
- Start in Downward Dog, lifting tailbone up and pressing into feet and hands.
- Breathe out and bend right leg to bring it forward on your mat. Place right ankle just behind left hand and knee just behind right hand. (Your shin will be roughly parallel with the top of your mat.)
- Extend left leg behind you, rolling your kneecap and top of foot toward the floor by engaging your thigh.
- Tent your hands by pressing into fingertips and lifting palms slightly off the mat.
- Square hips and draw thighs together for increased stability (think: nutcracker).
- Lift up through the crown of your head, tucking chin just a tad to elongate the back of your neck.
Next, flow to Mermaid Pose
Here’s how to do it:
- Tent right fingertips on the floor to help you balance as you slowly bend left leg, pointing toes upward.
- Side front heel back toward groin and open your hips slightly.
- Reach left arm backward in a windmill motion to clasp the inside of your left foot near the arch.
- Slip the palm of your left hand toward your toes, slowly bringing foot closer to torso. Then, slip left foot into the crease of your elbow.
- Elongate your spine by lifting up through the crown of your head.
- Windmill right arm up and overhead, bending your elbow to clasp your left hand.
- Elevate your chin slightly to gaze up.
- Focus on the inhale and exhale as you hold the pose for a few breaths.
When you’re ready, come out of Mermaid Pose
Here’s how to do it:
- Release your hands as you engage your left leg and draw it toward the floor.
- Place your hands on either side of the mat and press back toward Downward Dog.
- Lift right leg into the air and shake it out before you place any weight on it.
- You can press back to Child’s Pose to rest or hold Downward Dog until you’re ready to repeat on the other side.
Want to deepen your Mermaid Pose? Keep these tips in mind to stay shipshape:
- Press your back foot into your elbow crease to activate your rear hip and thigh. Resist with your arm to activate your rear biceps.
- Press your front shin into the mat and lift up through your pelvis to activate your front thigh and hip. This helps increase stability and engagement in the pose.
- Don’t crunch the back of your neck as you look up. Keep your neck long and chin lifted just slightly. Focus on reaching with the crown of your head.
To prep your body for the intense stretch of Mermaid Pose, add a few standing poses with hip openers into your practice. That way your hips will be warmed up and stretched out before you crest the wave into Mermaid.
Pose 1: Crescent Pose
The squared hips in this standing pose mimic the ideal hip position for Pigeon Pose. Crescent Pose activates your front thigh and hips, preparing you for a deeper opening.
Try it out:
- From Downward Dog, reach right leg up and step it between your hands.
- Place fingertips on either side of the mat to steady yourself.
- Press into front foot, rotate back hip toward the front of the mat, and press into the ball of your back foot.
- Press back thigh up and reach out through your heel, engaging your leg.
- Reach both arms overhead, bringing hips, shoulders, and fingertips into one line.
- Relax your floating ribs to avoid puffing out your chest, and point tailbone down.
- Hold for a few breaths, then move into the next pose.
Pose 2: Revolved High Lunge
In this High Lunge Pose, you’ll move into an active hip flexor stretch as you keep your back leg straight. Revolving the pose will warm up your back for the coming backbend.
Try it out:
- From Crescent, bring your fingertips back to either side of the mat.
- Continue to extend through your spine, reaching from the crown of your head and keeping back straight.
- Slowly begin to peel right hand off the mat and extend it upward, stacking your shoulders.
- Rotate your chest toward your front thigh.
- Engage your legs by pressing both feet into the mat and pressing back thigh up.
- Hold for a few breaths, then release back into a High Lunge.
Pose 3: Revolved Low Lunge
In this pose, you’re getting closer to your Mermaid.
Your back hip flexor is getting a deep stretch, your front hip engages to support the pose, and your back is warming up with a twist and micro-backbend. You even get to play with clasping your back foot a bit.
Try it out:
- From a High Lunge, slowly bring your back (left) knee onto the mat. (You may want to place a blanket or fold your mat under your knee for padding.)
- Inhale and reach right arm up as you bend left knee, lifting foot.
- Bring right hand and left foot to meet, rotating chest toward right thigh.
- Resist your left foot with your hand, press into your right thigh, and lift up through the crown of your head.
- Breathe deeply into your twist.
- To come out, release your right hand down to the mat and step back into Downward Dog.
Not quite ready to dive into the deep end? Try these modifications to float your way into Mermaid.
Use a strap
If the backbend is too intense, you can use a strap or band to give your spine a little more space. Loop the strap around your back foot and hold both ends with your back hand. Tent your front fingers on the mat to keep your balance.
Take it sideways
Tight hips? You can open up your Mermaid Pose sideways by drawing your front heel down on the mat toward your groin and turning your torso to face the same side as your back foot.
This effectively un-squares your hips, so it requires less strength and flexibility. But it also provides less stability and support. Be sure to engage your hips in this position so you aren’t just hanging out all loosey-goosey.
If you notice your front hip is floating a bit above the mat, place a blanket or bolster underneath to provide extra support.
Rise, Mermaid, rise
If the full Mermaid Pose has you shipwrecked, Rising Mermaid Pose may calm the waters. This pose offers a sampling of a hip flexor stretch without the intense hip opening of full Pigeon or Mermaid Pose.
Try it out:
- Come into a Forward Lunge with your back knee on the mat and front ankle, shin, and knee parallel.
- Shift your weight forward onto front foot, engaging hip and thigh for support.
- Point back toes and bend knee, hooking back elbow around toes.
- Windmill front arm overhead and bend elbow to clasp back hand.
- Hold the pose while you focus on your breath.
- When you’re ready to come out, release back leg, place hands on the mat, and press back to Downward Dog or Child’s Pose.
Make it harder with Standing Mermaid Pose
If you’ve got your sea legs and you’re ready for more, you may want to give Standing Mermaid Pose a try.
Try it out:
- Start in Tadasana (aka Mountain Pose) with feet hip-distance apart.
- Shift weight into right foot and come up onto the ball of your left foot.
- Bend left knee and reach left arm back to clasp left foot.
- Kick foot into your hand and lift upward, pressing right thigh back for support.
- Reach right arm up and forward, creating balance with back leg.
- Bend left elbow as you slide left foot into your elbow crease. Then clasp right hand with left hand.
- To release, unclasp your hands and slowly bring left foot down to the mat to return to Tadasana.
Want to give Mermaid Pose a try? Un-shore if it’s safe enough to add to your practice? That’s understandable.
Mermaid is a fairly advanced pose involving both extension and rotation of your spine. It combines a backbend with a slight twist, which means there’s extra pressure on your lumbar spine.
For people with perfectly healthy spines, this is no sweat. But for most of us, including yogis and athletes, it’s important to approach spinal exertion with care.
Experts recommend proceeding with caution
“Mermaid Pose is an intermediate level hip-opening yoga pose with the potential to stretch the piriformis, psoas, and other muscles while encouraging extension and rotation of the thoracic spine,” says chiropractor Calah Tenney.
“I would not recommend this pose for anyone in active pain or with any unrehabilitated hip, shoulder, or back injuries,” says Anthony Chiechi, general manager and head coach at neurophysiology-based rehab and performance gym J Bodyworks.
If you don’t lay the groundwork, there’s a definite possibility of injury.
“Mermaid Pose requires a lot of coordination, including the ability to balance the tension and relaxation of muscles around the spine, hips, and shoulders,” says Chiechi. “If you don’t have the proper motor control to balance these, then likely injuries include compressing joints as well as overstretching nerves.”
In the end, there are plenty of other poses that can give you the benefits of backbending, hip opening, and twisting without the risk posed by Mermaid.
If you have any of the following conditions, Mermaid Pose may not float your boat:
- back pain
- knee pain or injury
- bulging discs
- herniated discs
- spinal cord injury
“If you have tight hips, Pigeon Pose or Eye of the Needle would be a better place to start,” says Tenney.
She also recommends that people with knee, hip, or back challenges work with a professional to make sure everything is in alignment and proper modifications are used.
“If you’re a beginner, I recommend regressing to poses that work the hips, shoulders, and spine separately before grouping them together,” Chiechi says.
Still want to answer Mermaid’s siren song?
It’s important to approach the pose with caution and under the guidance of an experienced teacher who is familiar with your body and your limitations.
Although it’s OK for a pose to feel like a challenge, never use force.
The point of practicing yoga is not to push yourself to your absolute limits but to find the edge between effort and relaxation. Yoga should not hurt. If you have to strain to get into any pose, don’t do it.
Be sure to practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher and consult a healthcare professional when in doubt.
Mermaid Pose is a new spin on the classic One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).
It most likely came about because it’s slightly easier to perform but is still a snappable photo op.
Because it involves backbending and twisting, this pose may not be safe for everyone to practice. It’s important to check with an experienced teacher who’s familiar with your body before you give it a try.