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Five Pillars Yoga

Yoga Lab: Extended Side Angle, Three Ways

A Trio of Ways to Explore Utthita Parsvakonasana

Utthita Parsvakonasana is one of those foundational yoga asanas that, much like Adho Mukka Svanasana, requires a solid understanding of body geometry in order to reap its full benefits. Plenty challenging on its own, Extended Side Angle is also a vital stepping stone for showier poses like Baddha Parsvakonasana (the bound variation), Visvamitrasana and Bird of Paradise.

We’ll cover the last of those, Bird of Paradise, in a few weeks; until then, consider this a review of the not-so-basic basics.

Option One: Elbow to Knee 

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Utthita Parsvakonasana has three clear stopping points on the path to full extension. In all variations the legs are rock steady. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Legs are in…
  • A Warrior Two stance with the heel of the front foot in line with the arch of the back foot.
  • The outer edge of the back foot is yearning for the floor.
  • The front knee is at ninety degrees (look down and see your big toe).
  • Energy is being pulled up from the base of the pelvic floor; engage Mula bandha, or your root lock, to keep the pose from energetically sinking into the ground.
  • Lift the front toes to avoid gripping with the front foot and sinking too much of your weight over the bent knee.

The extended part of this pose is the side body lengthening that occurs from the pinkie toe side of the back foot through the fingers of the top arm. Imagine a clear line of energy moving up and out. But don’t let the underside of the rib cage get squished. Pick your side waist up and off the top of the bent thigh and draw your hip point up and back.

Now this is where the elbow comes in. To keep all that length, place your bent elbow on your front knee and push down, using it as leverage. Roll your shoulder blade down the back — think of the two shoulder blades kissing around the spine — and use the downward thrust of the elbow to open the heart toward the ceiling.

Sweep the front arm across the chest, past the face and up and over the top ear. Turn your gaze to your top thumb.

Option Two: Hand to Block

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Place a block at any height outside your front foot. Keep everything the same in the lower body as described above but lower your bottom hand to the block. Without the press of the elbow against the knee you’ll need to breath even more length into the lower side ribs. Make sure the front knee is tracking over the ankle.

Option Three: Hand to Floor 

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Feeling good? Okay, remove the block and bring your finger pads or the palm of your hand to the floor. Keep opening the heart up to the ceiling.

Bonus Option: Bound Variation 

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A little visual inspiration for taking it to the next level. Here the opening of the heart is crucial to bringing the top arm back and down.

No rush. Enjoy variations one through three for as long as you desire. As we work up to Bird of Paradise we’ll spend more time breaking down the shape pictured above.

Photos: Top photo from wellbeyondmars.tumblr.com; elbow on knee variation from theberry.com; yogi Leslie Howard with the block variation from Yoga Journal; hand down variation from yogaorkney.com; twisted side angle from yogamen.tumblr.com