There are many poses in my yoga arsenal, but through my conversation with Mary and knowing the spirit of “Make It Better”, I decided that I would like to write about a pose that made yoga better for me – extended side angle (utthita parsvakonasana).
Two years into my yoga practice I found Power Yoga and quickly extended side angle became a regular occurrence in my practice. Honestly, I often dreaded it. In flow I would breeze by it and during long holds I’d find excuses. I’m quite certain I once faked a sneeze just so that I could break posture without “giving up.” Over time, though, I grew to love it. I knew yoga was great for flexibility, and it had done wonders for my anxiety. But, yoga also made me strong! Extended side angle in particular felt fierce in my body. I developed core muscles that I never knew I had! The strong stance in my legs makes me feel powerful. The depth in my hips felt juicy and necessary. The extension in my side sculpted my waist. All of the sudden I realized that I had obliques! Extended side angle is just one of many poses that lead me to a new physical level, but it is one that shines bright in my heart. It makes me feel confident!
After a decade of practice and four years as a teacher, my perspective has changed. I can empathize with students who fidget and wiggle away from discomfort. I understand the frustration when a pose seems far from reach. So, now I explore the benefits of postures from many different levels and do my best to offer students options. No one should ever feel like they have to “opt out” of a pose. They may just need a different option, and that’s ok. So, for you, my yogi friends here are three expressions of extended side angle. I hope they make it better for you!
Start in a warrior II stance: long stride with the front knee stacked over the front ankle, back leg long with the foot at a slight angle, arms extended at shoulder height and a soft gaze beyond the front hand. It’s always good to scan for excessive tension the low back, neck and jaw before moving on.
From there, extend the arm and side bodies forward over the front thigh. While maintaining length in the bottom waist, bend at the hip to stack the ribs parallel over the front thigh.
First option is to prop the bottom elbow on the front thigh. You can also place a block to the inside of the front foot and set your hand lightly on the block. The legs, core and upper back are all working to keep the body stable and lifted.
If the torso feels elevated and well supported, a second option would be to hold the arms perpendicular to the floor, with more emphasis on the reach up. The bottom arm can apply slight pressure to the front inner thigh to encourage hip opening.
If the second option remains stable, a third option would be to take the bottom fingers to the outside of the front foot. The front knee then applies slight pressure to the bottom arm, again a reminder of hip opening but this time the abductors are working themselves. The top arm can extend overhead, palm face down with the bicep framing the ear. In this expression it is common for the top ribs to cave forward, turning the face to the ground. Instead continue to pull the ribs to stack, hug the top shoulder blade away from the top ear and gaze up. If that becomes painful, return to a previous expression.
Be sure to hold both side equally and do forget it’s yoga – BREATHE! All of these expressions are beneficial. Try the version that works for your body and know that every day is different. Yoga will meet you where you are on that day, and every day.
Mary and I have talked in depth about the mission of Check Gear and so many of the things Check Gear stands for aligns with my style of teaching: accessibility, integrity, commitment.