Namaste everyone! The time is here again to align and refine a pose for a new month. Join me in practicing a standing forward fold called Parsvottanasana – Extended Side Stretch Pose. The basic shape will have our legs almost in line with each other and facing in the same direction. Our torso extends forward and down with our head centered over our front leg. As for all forward folds make sure that you are folding at the hip crease and not at the waist- bending at the waist causes the torso to shorten and compromises our spine. You want to keep as much length as possible in your front body so that your back body does not excessively round.
In the beginning I will bombard you with lots of photos because we will pay attention to all three stages of Parsvottanasana: getting into the pose, being in the pose and getting out of the pose. All three stages are important and should be practiced with equal diligence. We will start our journey into the pose by jumping our feet apart from Tadasana – Mountain Pose.
Instructions for Parsvottanasana:
This pose is traditionally done with your arms and hands in a reversed prayer position behind your back. For this article we will look at a variation where the hands will be on the floor. Different arm/hand positions will be discussed in the Align and Refine part.
The journey into and out of Parsvottanasana:
Now return to G/F/E/D àturn your feet, legs and torso to the other side to repeat the variations in Pictures E/F/G/Hà return again to G/F/E/D/C/B/A
- Stand in the middle of your mat facing the long edge and be in Tadasana – Mountain Pose. Bring your fingertips towards each other (palms facing down) at the center of your chest and elbows bent out to sides at shoulder height. Lift your chest.
On an inhale step or jump your feet about 4 feet apart and extend your arms out to the sides still at shoulder height.
- Broaden across your chest and then take your hands to your waist. Squeeze your elbows together behind your back and release the tops of your shoulders down away from your ears.
- Turn your left toes in about 60° and your right foot and leg out 90°. Also keep turning your hips and torso towards the right so that your navel, sternum and nose are facing in the same direction as your right toes.
- Take another inhale to strongly lift your chest again, keep the shoulders down and on an exhale fold forward from the hips. Bring your trunk parallel to the floor.
- Now release the hands down to the floor under your shoulders. In this position you will be in the concave back stage of the pose. This stage is important because it helps your lengthen the front body actively before fully folding forward. So in the concave back position, press the tips of your shoulder blades into the back and roll your collar bones up towards the ceiling. Now reach your sternum forward as your back heel presses back and down, as your outer right hip moves back.
- Keeping your front body long as best as you can, fully fold over your front leg as you “walk” your hands back towards your left foot. Align you’re your sternum with the centerline of your front leg. (Notice how your are folding forward at a slight diagonal)
- Relax the head and neck. Stay in the pose now for about 30 s.
- On an inhale “walk” the hands back under the shoulders and come up halfway with your torso into the concave back stage. Slightly lift your chin and place your hands back on your waist, squeezing the elbows together behind your back.
- Inhale again as you hinge all the way up to vertical.
- Turn your feet, legs and trunk back to starting position and from here repeat all for the left side.
- After you returned to the starting position again, step or jump to Tadasana – Mountain Pose again.
Work in the pose for alignment:
- Keep both legs straight. Strongly pull your kneecaps up to your groins.
- Square your hips forward and firm your outer hips in towards midline
- Press both top thighs back (but keep the outer hip of the front leg moving back and the outer hip of the back leg
- Don’t get light on the back foot. I like to isometrically push my front foot forward so I can bring weight into the back foot for anchoring.
- Even though you are folding forward at a slight diagonal, keep both sides of your torso evenly long and evenly close to the front leg. (i.e. if your right leg is in front, don’t shorten the right side of your torso)
- Lengthen the front of your torso from the navel to the sternum (extending over your front leg)
Some refinement work :
- Hands on blocks for tight hamstrings:
Move your outer shoulders up towards the ceiling and roll the collar bones up towards the ceiling. Lifting the chin slightly will help with accessing the tips of the shoulder blades. They need to strongly press into the back. Then on an exhale fold over the front leg moving hands and blocks back. Then isometrically push the blocks forward to get the trunk closer to the front leg
- Hands and then forehead on the chair for tight hamstrings:
Notice how I have a taught looped strap around the front of my heel of the back foot and the top of the front thigh. This allows my back foot to anchor back and down and moves the top front thigh back! Resting my head on the chair seat in the full forward fold adds a restorative touch
- Hands pressing into the wall:
- Using blocks(or no blocks) and having arms reach forward when folded forward:
Nice variation to work on lengthening the trunk in the forward fold
- Folded chair in groins:
- , M., S. Mehta: 1990. Yoga, The Iyengar Way, A DK Book, London, England
- Inspirations from the asana classes taught by Iyengar teachers that I attended
- S. Arun : 2014. Experiment and Experience On The Chair The Yoga Way , Sri Venkateshwara Printers, Bangalore, India
Katja Huiras is a 500 hr certified Yoga teacher who teaches alignment based yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.