Extended Side Angle Pose, ("Utthita Parsvakonasana" in Sanskrit) is a pose commonly taught in yoga classes. It is a pose I often include in many of my vinyasa classes at the studio. Instructors generally guide students into this pose from Warrior II, instructing to prop the lower arm on top of the bent leg and extend into side angle pose from there. To move into a deeper expression of the pose, the student can release the arm from the leg and lower that hand toward the ground, while keeping the upper body lifted and long. Extended Side Angle Pose requires quite a bit of side-body flexibility (to lower the torso and lengthen the arm), core strength (to keep from the body lifted) and hip mobility (to bend low into the leg with a wide stance).
But there is something else the body needs to do in the pose that I only just discovered......and it is the main reason I struggle with it.....
Most pictures demonstrating Extended Side Angle pose show the person in a low bent-leg stance with the upper body extended straight and long across the bent leg (see image below). After years of practicing this pose, I had always figured my struggle came from not being able to bend deep enough in the front leg. Over time, my legs got stronger and my hips more flexible, but I was still not able to feel expansion and length in my upper body when I tried to lower the bottom arm toward the floor. To this day, as I lengthened through the top arm and lower the bottom arm, my upper body tends to round forward and I feel extremely stiff in the side-ribs, chest and underneath my shoulder.
My discovery...with the help of a dear friend and teacher, this pose requires flexibility in the upper chest, peck area and shoulders. It all made sense. My body's most "blocked" and tense are is in upper chest and shoulders, which has been limiting the extension I want to feel in this pose.
In order to really extend fully in Extended Side Angle pose, the chest needs to rotate upward, which encourages the side-body and ribs to twisting a little bit. Without upward rotation of the chest and shoulder, the torso will rotate down and forward, ultimately taking the stability and extension out of the pose. Over the past couple months, I've been slowly working on giving these areas more attention by doing isolated "yin-like" stretches and holds. Backbends are great poses to assist in this endeavor because they help bring strength and length to the muscles in the front of the body, side-body and shoulders.
Does anyone else have this experience in Extended Side Angle Pose?
If you are struggling lifting and expanding through the upper body and arm in Extended Side Angle Pose, try practicing Modified Wild Thing Pose. Start in Table Pose, then extend the left leg toward the back of the mat while rotating the right knee and foot toward the left side of the room (see picture below). Then lift the left hand off the mat and extend the right arm up and back, coming into a backbend. From here, reach with the right arm and right leg in opposite directions, expanding through the side-body, ribs, chest and shoulder.
Each of us has a different body, a different bone structure and varying levels of muscle tension and flexibility. All of that ensures that yoga looks and feels different to each of us. Yoga asana is such a personal practice for this very reason. For years I thought there was an inability in my level of strength and experience-level that prevented me from expressing Extended Side Angle Pose like it "should be".
We must stop looking at the shape of our bodies compared to poses, and instead feel the sensations it provides and recognize the subtitles of what the body is asking for. By doing this, by being present in your moment, you will feel which areas are craving openness and energy and you will discover the sacred complexity that makes your yoga practice so unique and transformative for you.
Hello, I'm Julie.
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