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Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Extended Side Angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) is one of my favorite poses. It improves your balance and strengthens your legs and the sides of your body, especially the side abdominal muscles on your top arm side. And when you hold the pose statically for up to a minute, it also encourages bone strengthening in your hips, spine, and bottom hand wrist. In addition to strengthening, this pose increases flexibility by stretching your inner thighs and the shoulder joint of your top arm. The variations described below make it accessible to almost everyone, as it can even be done on a chair.
Because this pose is energizing, it can help enliven you when you're feeling tired or lethargic. And because it is grounding, it can be helpful for anxiety or stress.
I prescribe Extended Side Angle for:
•general weakness and fatigue
1. Start by standing in the center of your mat.
2. Step your feet wide apart, about the length of your legs. Then turn your right foot out about 90 degrees and your left foot in slightly, so the pinky edge of your left foot lines up with the long edge of your yoga mat.
3. Inhale and extend your arms out to your sides.
4. Exhale and bend your right knee toward 90 degrees (but not further), making sure your right knee is aligned with the middle toe of your right foot. If it’s comfortable for you, turn your head to gaze over your right hand (essentially entering Warrior 2).
5. Keeping your front knee directly over your front ankle, side-bend your torso and belly from your hips out over your front thigh, and place your right hand on the floor to the outside of the front foot or on a block that is snuggled up against your right shin. Try to keep the right and left sides of your chest even with each other, avoiding the tendency to round your spine like a bending sapling over the front leg.
6. Keeping your hips stable, rotate your upper belly and chest slightly up away from your right leg. Bring your left arm overhead in line with your back leg and the side of your chest.
7. Traditionally, in this pose, your head (and gaze) turn up to look under your left armpit. But I also like to look straight ahead or turn my head to look down at my right foot. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds (8 breaths), working up to 90 seconds (approximately 16-20 breaths).
8. To come out of the pose, inhale as you straighten your right leg and use your left arm to swing your torso back to center, with your arms out to the side. Then, on exhalation, release your arms and turn your feet to parallel. Then repeat the pose on your left side.
1. Tight Hips or General Weakness: For this variation, you stand with your feet a bit closer together than usual and then either use a chair for your bottom hand or place your elbow on top of your thighbone, near your knee, with your palm facing up. If you are using a chair, before entering the pose, place the chair so when you’re in the pose, it will be just to the outside of your front knee.
2. Arm Strength: You can use this pose to build arm strength by keeping your arms up while you change from your right side to your left.
3. Balance Problems: If you have balance problems, I recommend you use a wall. You can practice with your back to a wall, with the hip of your front leg touching the wall. Or, you can practice with your mat perpendicular to the wall, and your back foot against the wall. This is a good way to get a clear sense of the straightness of your back leg. Either position the entire outer edge of your back foot flush against the wall or have just your heel against the wall, with your back foot turned just slightly in.
4. Shoulder Tightness: For those with shoulder tightness, taking the top arm overhead in line with your side body can be challenging at first. Instead, take your top arm straight up in the air, as in Triangle Pose. Then, gradually, over time, you can bring your arm closer to the full position.
5. Chair Version: For those who cannot stand to do this pose, start by sitting on a chair as you normally would. Then swing your right leg so it is parallel with the front edge of your chair and your right buttock and part of your right thigh are supported on the chair seat. Then extend your left leg back away from the right, as in the full version of the pose. If your left hip is tight, you can move your left leg a bit forward of the chair to make sure the sole of your left foot is grounded. Inhale your arms up to your sides, and then side-bend over your right leg, placing your right elbow in your right thigh, palm facing up. For this variation, take the left arm up towards the sky as in Triangle pose. If your shoulders are more open, you can move your left arm in line with your side body and back leg. To come out of the pose, inhale as you bring your torso back over your hips and your arms to your sides. Then, exhale and release your arms down and swing both legs to your starting seated position. Repeat on the other side.
Cautions: If you have knee problems, don’t bend your front knee quite as deeply. Make sure it stops just shy of being over your front ankle. In addition, standing with your feet a bit closer than the 4 to 4 1/2 feet apart can also help. And if your knee is acutely painful, you could sit on a chair with your front thigh supported by the chair seat. This will take all weight off your front knee. Those with lower back pain on one side or sacroiliac pain on one side should try the higher versions described above for hip tightness. And, as with all held standing poses, those with high blood pressure should stay for much shorter periods of time, such as 4-6 breaths. You should work with a qualified teacher to advance your timings appropriately.