For anyone who has ever practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you may have come across Marichyasana A. It is the first of 4 Marichyasana poses (a, b, c and d). And so in this article, we’re going to focus all our attention on the first of the Marichyasana poses, Marichyasana A.
Marichyasana A is an asana from the Ashtanga primary series. Once the body has been warmed up from the preceding postures, we move on to Marichyasana A, which asks us to fold forward with our arms bound. Its main purpose is that of a hip opener, as we prepare the body for the challenging Kurmasana.
Marichyasana is one of those poses where it can feel great to be adjusted in by a teacher. The key reason is that as our arms are bound around one leg, it can be hard to fold forward onto the other leg.
And so this is one pose I love to assist my students in because not only do I help them get deeper into the pose, but it can also feel very good.
I’ve also written step-by-step guides for all four Marichyasana poses of the Ashtanga Primary Series (Marichyasana B, Marichyasana C, and Marichyasana D), be sure to check them out if you’re interested.
Perhaps you are thinking about how to practice Marichyasana A, or are just curious about this pose. Keep reading to find out all there is about this pose!
I’ve written a complete guide to the Ashtanga yoga poses of the Primary series, so be sure to check it out.
Benefits of Marichyasana A
The key benefit of Marichyasana A is that it helps to soften the hip of the bent leg. This in turn helps prepare the body for the even more challenging Kurmasana. Additionally, Marichyasana A helps to lengthen the hamstring of the straight leg and also the shoulder of the bound arm.
This pose is rather challenging for those with tight hamstrings. There are modifications and variations which I will discuss below.
And so a tendency is to drop our weight and attention to the straight leg. However, by bringing weight to the bend leg, we are able to access and soften the hip of the bent leg. This way, we get to really tap into the function of this pose, which is that of a hip opener.
According to John Scott in his book Ashtanga Yoga, the four variations of Marichyasana “are beneficial to the digestive system, clearing flatulence, indigestion, and constipation and improve the digestive power generally”
How to do Marichyasana A
Let’s now have a look at how I would best guide a student in and out of this pose. And so if you are a student or a teacher interested in finding out how to cue Marichyasana A, this guide will be able to help.
As this is an Ashtanga Yoga Pose, I will also include the corresponding breath count to enter and exit this pose.
As with all seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga, we start off at Sapta (seven). This is because we assume that we start of each posture from standing. And so from standing:
Vinyasa to enter Marichyasana A
Ekam 1: Inhale and raise your arms up
Dve 2: Exhale and fold forward
Trini 3: Inhale and lengthen
Catvari 4: Exhale and step or jump back to Chaturanga
Panca 5: Inhale and come into Upward facing dog
Sat 6: Exhale and come into Downward facing dog
How to do Marichyasana A
Sapta 7: Inhale and jump forward into Dandasana. From here bend your right leg and place your foot on the mat. Aim to align the outer edge of your right foot with the outer face of your right hip joint and allow your right knee to face towards the sky. Try to keep your right foot parallel with the left leg.
Place your left hand on the floor and lean into it.
From here reach forward with your right arm till your shoulder is past the right knee. Then wrap your right arms around your right shin. Bring your left hand behind you and see if you can clap your fingers. If this is comfortable, you can aim for a deeper bind by holding your left wrist with your right hand.
Astau 8: Exhale and tip the pelvis forward and lengthen your spine as you move forward. Square your shoulders and press your bound right arm back. As we stay here for 5 breaths, aim to lift your heart and allow your chest to be square over the straight leg. Also, try to keep the straight leg flexed, and this can mean pressing the heel of the straight leg on the floor.
Something you can work on here is to avoid hunching. In order to do this try to keep the forehead away from the knee. Instead, direct your heart and top of your head towards the left foot. This will help strengthen the back muscles.
How to exit Marichyasana A
Nava 9: Inhale and release the hands. Exhale here.
Daca 10: Inhale and lift up with crossed legs.
Ekadaca 11: Exhale and jump back into Chaturanga
Dvadaca 12: Inhale and come into Upward facing dog
Trayodaca 13: Exhale and come into Downward facing dog
Caturdaca 14: Repeat steps 7-13 on the other side.
Most beginners especially tend to take more time between sapta (7) and astau (8). This means that we may need more time to bring the leg in, wrap the arm around, and then fold forward.
And so rather than rushing it, you can think of adding a few extra breaths:
Inhale sit in Dandasana
Exhale bring the foot in
Inhale reach the arms forward
Exhale get ready to wrap
Inhale wrap the arm around the leg and lengthen
Exhale fold forward
Modifications and variations
As a general rule, the main modification for Marichyasana A is for those who have trouble binding their hands. In this case, the most common solution is to use a yoga strap. This way we can still bind, even if we can’t get our arm all around our leg and our hands can’t touch.
Using a yoga strap we still get the feeling of binding, even if our hands aren’t actually touching.
And so when using a yoga strap, work on slowly and gradually walking your hands closer towards one another. This will help close the gap between your hands and in time, will help you clasp once the body is ready and more open.
There are two more common Marichyasana A modifications.
The first involves placing both hands on the mat. More specifically, for those who have trouble binding, we can place the right hand to the right of the bend right leg and the left hand to the left of the straight leg.
From there bend both elbows, as you would in a push-up and pull the shoulders back and by pushing the right arms up against the right leg, we work towards extending forward with the chest.
This is a great solution for those who cannot bind and yet still helps to soften the hip.
One final variation is to again let go of binding, and instead hold on to the straight leg. Again pull the shoulders back and extend the torso forward.
Beginner’s tips really do vary depending on each person’s body, their flexibility, and their abilities. And so to be able to offer nay beginner’s tips, I will point out what I commonly see:
For those with tight shoulders, it may be challenging to wrap the arm around the leg. In this case, I advise students to use a strap as they will still get the stretch in the shoulder, which with time may slowly and gradually open up.
In this case, I advise students to not come forward too much. Yes, Marichyasana is a hip opener, however, if we have tight hamstrings, it Is worth using this posture to try to release the hamstrings too.
And so in the case of tight hamstrings, it is perhaps best to not come too forward to a point where we bend the straight leg. Instead, stay upright, or to wherever the hamstring can stay straight, and work on pushing back the bent leg, so as to open the hip too.
It is a fact that Marichyasana A is easier for those with long limbs. And this is because it is easy then for long arms to wrap around long legs. But what happens if we have short legs?
I had a student with such proportions and no matter how open her hamstrings were and how much she could fold forward, she could not keep her arms wrapped around her bent leg. It would just slide off!
And so the modification we found for her was to place the foot of her bent leg on a block. This helped raise the hight to which the bent knee came to, thus allowing her to keep her arm wrapped around her leg.
For anyone with short arms, wrapping the arm around the leg can be near impossible. And so in this case, the best modification is to use a strap.
Props for Marichyasana A
In Ashtanga Yoga we typically don’t use props. However, when trying to work on Marichyasana A, it is worthwhile investigating and working with pros to see how we can access the pose more efficiently, even just as an exploration.
A yoga strap can be used for those who have difficulty clapping their hands behind their back.
People with tight hamstrings can sit on a yoga blanket, so as to help tilt the pelvis forward. This may help move more deeply into the forward fold of Marichyasana A.
A yoga block can be placed upright between the straight leg and the bent leg’s foot. This may help to keep the foot parallel to the straight leg. The reason is that people tend to open up the door to the side, especially as they start to fold forward.
Interestingly enough, the wall can also be used for Marichyasana A. In this case, face the Wass and place the sole of the straight leg on the wall. This will encourage you to keep the straight leg upright and fully flexed as you fold forward.
As with any posture, there are certain things to try to avoid.
- Try to keep your torso from rolling to the side. Instead, aim forward and keep it extended.
- Try to avoid bringing your forehead to the knee of the straight leg. This is rather common for beginners, eager to fold forward. Instead, think about extending forward, rather than down.
- Keep in mind that you cans till do Marichyasana A even if you can’t bind. The bind alone does not make up the posture.
- Aim to keep the foot of the bent leg straight and parallel to the straight leg, instead of allowing it to open to the side.
- Try to reach as far forward when first entering this posture. This will help maintain maximum length and will in turn help deepen the bind.
Where does the name Marichyasana come from?
Marichyasana is also referred to as the Pose dedicated to the Sage Marichy. According to Hindu mythology, Marichy is the son of God Brahma, the creator of all. He is also the grandfather of Surya, the Sun God, who we salute at the start. And so it is believed that Marichy discovered this asana.
And that is where the name Marichyasana comes from.