This post was originally published as Capitol Hill Yoga‘s Pose of the Month in April 2013.
It’s a standing pose introduced in most beginners yoga class, yet its classic form and variations continue to challenge me years after first encountering it. Uttita Parsvakonasa (extended side angle pose) is one of my favorite asana (postures) and I teach it in nearly all classes from beginner, to early morning open, to prenatal.
Parsvakonasa is great for building leg strength, flexibility, and hip openness. The bent front leg and simple modifications often makes this posture much more accessible than triangle pose for students with tight hamstrings and hips. However, it’s easy to just hang out in the pose, not truly challenging yourself and forgoing many of the benefits of full engagement.
Taking the Pose
Before starting, warm up with a few sun salutations, lunges or other poses that take you gently through all four directions of spinal motion.
1. Take a wide stance on your yoga mat with your feet 3 1/2 or four feet apart, approximately wrist distance apart if your arms were extended to either side.
2. Turn your right foot 90 degrees toward your right and your left foot slightly in the same direction.
3. Lift and spread your toes to help engage your shins and draw your heals isometrically (without actually moving them) toward each other to engage your inner thighs and hips.
4. Press your right heel into the floor and bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor with your knee directly over your angle and in line with your toes.
5. Lean your torso to the right, and place your right elbow on your right thigh.
Optional: Bring your right hand down onto a block or the floor on the outside of your right foot.
6. From your core, root down through your legs and extend through your spine.
7. Stretch your left arm overhead, bicep toward your ear, palm facing down.
8. Hold for two to three breaths.
9. Keep your legs engaged, inhale and return to standing.
Common Misalignments in Parsvakonasana
Beginning yoga students often take too short a stance in this pose. While standing with your feet further apart requires more leg engagement to maintain, it actually makes the rest of the pose easier.
Because Parsvakonasana is taught so early in many yoga curricula, it can be taken for granted by more intermediate students. But the full pose requires a sophisticated perception of alignment: aligning the back leg foot to hip, keeping the front knee tracking over the front foot, keeping weight evenly balanced in all four corners of both feet and legs evenly engaged, drawing the top of the back thigh toward the back plane of the body, drawing the lower ribs back and maintaining spaciousness and length on both sides of the torso while revolving the heart toward the sky . . . There’s a lot work on in this pose.
Want to challenge yourself further? Try revolving the pose or adding a bind. (BTW: I don’t recommend wearing jeans for either variation, generally.)
Jennifer Mueller brings a sense of joy and playfulness to her classes – both the adult and kids classes – and hopes to offer her students the sense of freedom she finds in yoga. She founded Breathing Space to create hub for family yoga on Capitol Hill and share her enthusiasm for age- and developmentally-appropriate poses, games, and songs with yogis of all ages.