If you ever scan the masses of yoga photos on Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook, chances are you will be bombarded with images of insane backbends—many of which are so intense, the yogi appears to have no backbone.
Images flood our minds of picture-perfect alignment in the shoulders and forearms; followed by a smooth, deep arc of the spine; finished with toes dangling in front of the face or precisely placed on the crown of the head. We think, “How can that be comfortable?” All the while, the person in the pose maintains a peaceful look or smile on their face.
Yoga emulates life. Through practice we find change, and through change we find peace. The two go hand-in-hand. Just as we progress in life, we progress in our yoga practice. We have to push beyond the comfort zone and ego to allow the real magic to take root and grow. Herein lies the struggle of Scorpion pose.
Scorpion pose pushes us to move past our self-imposed expectations and limits, to find our guts and gumption, and to own our badassery.
In Sanskrit, vrischik means scorpion and asana means pose. Vrischikasana has multiple benefits; however, as this is an advanced posture, it is imperative to practice this pose with an experienced yoga instructor and with proper preparation to avoid the risk of injury.
Benefits of Scorpion pose
- Builds stability and improves strength in the forearms, shoulders, and back body
- Challenges balance and stability in the spine
- Builds and promotes deep core strength of the spine when executed properly
- Stretches the neck, chest, and abdominals while opening the heart space
- Improves focus and concentration, as it’s an inversion, while easing stress and anxiety
- Detoxifies the kidneys and adrenal glands
- Encourages muscular endurance, stamina, and all-around badassery
Attempting this posture may place you at serious risk of injury if you suffer from any of the following:
- Shoulder instability or injuries
- Spine or hip injuries
- Wrist injuries
- History of heart disease or hypertension
- Vertigo or dizziness while inverted
How to prepare yourself
If you are new to this pose, begin by warming the body through a vinyasa flow (i.e., Sun Salutations) to encourage movement, blood flow, and hydration to the tissues and joints. The following preparatory poses will open and strengthen the body to work toward the full expression of Scorpion pose.
- Child's Pose - opens the shoulders and the spine
- Downward-Facing Dog - opens the shoulders, hips, and spine
- Extended Puppy Pose - opens the chest and shoulders
- Cat/Cow poses - lubricates the spinal and rib joints
- Dolphin pose - strengthens the shoulders
- Feathered Peacock pose - strengthens the shoulders and core; should be able to hold for 30 seconds before attempting Scorpion pose
It is also advised to use the support of a wall when attempting this posture. This helps you to work toward an active extension in the spine, keeps you from “dumping” into the lower back, and prevents unhealthy compression in the spinal column.
The rise of the Scorpion
- Step 1: Begin in a Tabletop position. Slowly lower your forearms to the ground. Ensure the shoulders are balanced over the elbows and shoulder-distance apart to allow proper stacking of the joints.
- Step 2: Spread your fingers wide and press the entire palm of each hand into the floor. Slightly squeeze the under arms, ensuring the elbows do not “bow” out to the sides. This is the foundation of the posture and is the most crucial for a successful rise. Set your gaze between your thumbs or index fingers.
- Step 3: Maintaining your foundation, press down into the forearms, curl the toes under, and lift the hips high while walking the toes toward the elbows. This will bring you into Dolphin pose (Makarasana), where you can build strength and stability in the shoulders while toning and warming the core.
- Step 4: While in Dolphin pose, begin to lift a leg of your choice while bending the grounded leg. Press away from the ground, using a hopping motion, to bring the legs overhead and balance on the forearms. You are now in Feathered Peacock pose (Pincha Mayurasana). If you are against a wall, kick the legs up gently onto the wall and refine the pose. Note: You should be approximately an elbow-to-fingertip distance away from the wall. You will not be able to take Scorpion pose if you do not account for enough space to walk the toes down the wall.
- Step 5: Refine Feathered Peacock pose by pressing through the forearms and shoulders while sweeping the lower torso in and up (hollow out). Zipper the thighs together.
- Step 6: Next, gently begin to shift the back of the hips and legs forward, encouraging them to line up with the shoulder shelf. The sternum (breastbone) will be slightly perpendicular with the floor. Bend the knees and maintain support in the front of the spine, using core strength, as you begin to further extend your gaze past the fingertips and deepen the backbend. You should not feel any strain or intense compression in the spine or shoulders. If you do, back off and come out of this posture to avoid possible injury.
- Step 7: Support this posture with slow, deep breaths and challenge yourself to maintain the pose for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Step 8: To exit, slowly extend the knees and lengthen the legs into Feathered Peacock pose once more. Gently bring the feet down to the floor, finding Dolphin pose, and then return to Child’s pose. It is advised to gently and gradually transfer to forward-folding postures after a deep backbend to avoid shock or strain to the spinal column and musculature.
In Light On Yoga, B.K.S. lyengar states:
“The head, which is the seat of knowledge and power is also the seat of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice. These emotions are more deadly than the poison, which the scorpion carries in its sting. The yogi, by stamping on his head with his feet, attempts to eradicate these self-destroying emotions and passions. The subjugation of ego leads to harmony and happiness.”
The realization that we can end self-inflicted suffering by balancing out unproductive emotions, through our yoga practice, is evident here. Ego can no longer survive in an environment that no longer nourishes its growth. The poison of our own stinger, coming from the root of who we are, can begin to weaken the ego to dissolve the self-imposed binds and limitations. The ego is cunning, clever, and often difficult to catch, however, we know where it resides.