From Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

‘And having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted
That she did make defect perfection,
And, breathless, power breathe forth.’

 There is only one character from literature who could embody pincha mayurasana in a way that would do this strongest yet lightest of asanas justice. It is a seductive pose, it looks impressive, and somehow otherworldly – a little bit Egyptian and sphinx-like; it does not look like something in the realm of normal human experience. And indeed it does not feel like it either when you first try it. Instagram-yogis are obsessed with it, and indeed it is a proud posture – the Sanskrit name literally translates to ‘feathered peacock’ pose.

 Cleopatra is literature’s most famous exotic, proud and seductive heroine, but to dismiss her as only that is to miss the point, just like the Romans did, who out of a combination of racism, sexism, fear and misunderstanding dismiss her as a ‘slave’, a ‘whore’, and ‘Egyptian dish’ and other such charming terms. Her success as a ruler is not based on some kind of shallow reliance on her looks, but on a towering pillar of inner strength, an iron will and an innate charisma. She makes it all look effortless, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes. When she speaks it is all drama, and like the most powerful actors she finds the deep emotions within herself and pulls them out and uses them for effect. In pincha you will never balance unless mula bandha and uddiyana banhda, your most internal, core muscles, are fully engaged from deep within. You have to be fearless to tip upside down, but you must be completely in control – throwing yourself up wildly will never result in a balance.

Cleopatra is famous for living life on her own terms, not submitting to the will of men, and proudly carving her own path. More than any of Shakespeare’s heroes, she meets the tragedy that befalls her head on, with huge bravery. There is something about balancing in pincha mayarasana that makes me feel like her – that I too could lead a fleet into battle, or allow an asp to bite my breast, should circumstances require.

The beautiful image above is by the artist and printmaker Isabel Wilkinson: