Bird Dog Pose Variation: Bend Back and Balance

This entry was posted on Nov 15, 2022 by Charlotte Bell.
Bird Dog Yoga Pose Variation

A few weeks ago Hugger Mugger Yoga Products published a post on Parsva Balasana (Bird Dog Pose). Bird Dog is a deceptively complicated pose. It may look simple from the outside, but it packs a lot of benefits into a single asana. I’ll reiterate its array of benefits here:

  • strengthens and stabilizes the core.
  • strengthens the low back.
  • challenges, and therefore increases, your ability to balance.
  • may promote balance between the right and left lobes of your brain through the contralateral relationships between the arms and legs.

When I teach Bird Dog Pose in my classes, I usually link it up with four other somewhat related poses—a vinyasa of sorts. My students love this sequence and they often request it. The series includes a couple backbends, a side stretch and two poses that strengthen the outer glutes. It’s an invigorating, but centering, sequence. One of these days, I’ll share the entire sequence on this blog.

The First Variation in the Bird Dog Pose Series

Today, I’ll describe the second of the five poses (the first being classic Bird Dog) in the vinyasa. Like the original Bird Dog Pose, this variation confers all the benefits listed above. But it also extends the lumbar spine, lengthens the quadriceps and hip flexors, and expands the chest and shoulders. The transition from classic Bird Dog to this variation is yet another balancing challenge, which, of course, helps you develop your balancing skills.

Some practitioners may not be able to reach their foot with their hand. In this case, you can use a Yoga Strap to make the connection. If you’re teaching this variation in a class, you can loop the strap around the lifted foot, and then hand the student the two ends of the strap so that they can hold it with their opposite hand.

If you’re practicing on your own and would like to use a strap, you’ll need to enter the pose directly from Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose), rather from traditional Bird Dog Pose. I’ll explain the process below.

How to Practice Bird Dog Variation

  1. Come to your hands and knees on a Yoga Mat. You may want to place a Yoga Blanket under your knees for extra padding.
  2. Extend your right leg straight back, straightening your knee. There’s no need to try to lift the leg above your pelvis. This can actually cause stress in your low back. Let your leg be parallel to the floor.
  3. Extend your left arm forward, straightening your elbow. Again, there’s no need to hyperextend your shoulder joint by lifting your hand higher than your torso.
  4. Ground firmly through your right palm and left knee, shin and foot, rooting them into your mat.
  5. Simultaneously extend the right leg backward and left arm forward, keeping the back of your neck long and drawing your hyoid bone back into the throat. (There’s more info on this in my previous Bird Dog post.)
  6. Stay for 3 to 5 deep breaths, continuing to ground the right palm and left knee, shin and foot as you extend the left arm and right leg.
  7. Now bend your right knee, pointing your foot toward your head.
  8. Reach your left hand back toward or to the foot. It’s okay if you can’t reach your foot. You can still benefit from stretching your left arm back toward your foot. Alternatively, you can come back to all fours and follow the Yoga Strap instructions below.
  9. Press your right foot into your left hand to help expand your chest and shoulder.
  10. Take 3 to 5 deep breaths in the pose.
  11. Return to all fours. Rest here if you like, feeling the effects of the pose. You can also rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) if you prefer.
  12. Practice Bird Dog Pose on the other side.

How to Use a Yoga Strap to Reach Your Foot

This maneuver can be a bit tricky. It might take some practice, but making the hand-to-foot connection can add some extra strength to the pose.

  1. Start on all fours on a yoga mat. Feel free to place a folded blanket under your knees for extra padding.
  2. Loop a Yoga Strap around the arch of your right foot and extend the ends of your strap along the floor, diagonally toward your left hand. The strap should pass over your left calf, and the ends of it should be on the outside of your left knee. A longer (8-foot or 10-foot) Yoga Strap might work best here, depending on the length of your torso, although a 6-foot strap will be okay for most people.
  3. Take ahold of the ends of the strap with your left hand.
  4. Then lift your right leg, your knee still bent. Simultaneously, lift your left arm and extend it back toward your foot. You may need to walk your hand back on the strap to take up the slack.
  5. Stay in the pose for 3 to 5 deep breaths, pressing your foot into the strap to help open your shoulder.
  6. Release the pose and rest on all fours.
  7. Repeat on the other side.
About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

2 responses to “Bird Dog Pose Variation: Bend Back and Balance”

  1. Avatar Derek Capo says:

    Hi, I have rotated pelvis to the left, Left leg bird dog feels very strong I can squeeze and hold with ease, Right leg it feels so weak and much more difficult to get proper squeezes.

    Is there any value to continue to hammer away at the bird dogs to help correct weak side or is there alternative exercise that is better?

    Are cable single-leg kicbacks equivalent to birdog in that you don’t want to allow for lumbar extension and only draw from the 10 degress of hip extension?

    Is the deadbug excercise equivalent to the bird dog in that you can perform it the same manner ie focusing on lengthening the spine , and holding 5-10 second to achieve similiar motor control benefits on the front side.

    Appreciate your input, thanks.

    • Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

      Thanks for your question. I’m guessing that cable single-leg kickbacks or Bird Dog repetitions with a light resistance band might be helpful since you might want to strengthen your weaker side. If you try this, focus on kicking the leg straight back, lower than hip level, rather than trying to lift the leg high. Dead bug is probably a good choice as well.

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