Relieve tension in your hips and discover extra length in your side body in the Extended Side Angle Pose, also known as Utthita Parshvakonasana.
(Pronounced as "oo-TEE-tah PARSH-vah-cone-AHS-anna")
In Sanskrit, utthita means "extended," and parshva kona means "side angle." Here you focus on stretching out your sides as much as possible.
Stand up straight on your yoga mat in Tadasana. Breathe in. As you breathe out, jump to spread your feet as far apart as you can and stretch your arms out straight. Keep your arms at the same level as your shoulders with your palms facing down.
Take another breath. Now when you exhale, turn your right foot sideways so that your right toes point in the same direction as the fingers of your right hand. Turn your left foot slightly to the right about 45 degrees. Straighten your left leg and engage your left thigh muscles. Adjust the position of both your right and left heels so that you could draw an imaginary straight line between them on the floor.
Bend your right knee down until your right thigh forms a 90-degree angle with your calf. You will know that you have bent down low enough when you can feel that the top of your right thigh is perfectly level on top, making your thigh parallel with the floor.
Press your right palm into the floor next to the outside of your right foot. Here your right armpit will press against the outside of the right knee. Take a breath and exhale deeply as you stretch your left arm toward your right side until your right arm makes contact with your left ear. Press down harder with your left heel and lengthen your left side all the way from your left heel up to your left fingertips. Your left arm and fingers of your left hand stay straight and reach out diagonally to your right side.
Do not let your head collapse down onto your right shoulder. Instead, keep your head slightly lifted and gaze up toward your extended left palm. Feel your leg muscles pushing down to anchor your left heel at the same time that the left arm reaches to the right, stretching the whole spine. Your chest, hips and legs should all stay in line with each other, so keep your chest expanded up and slightly back. Pull your shoulder blades closer together.
Breathe normally and hold this position for at least 30 seconds or one minute if you can. To come out, breathe in and lift your hand from the floor, raising back up the same way that you came into the pose. Repeat this pose on the left side for the same amount of time.
If you have chronic neck problems or cervical spondylosis, then do not look up or turn your head in this posture. You can look straight ahead instead with your neck in a neutral position.
To help you position the bent leg in the proper 90-degree position, try this variation using the wall as a prop:
Stand up straight with your back against a wall. Jump to spread the feet apart as described above. Turn your feet to the right as before. Then lift up your left heel and turn your left foot, revolving your whole torso around so that both your hips and torso face the right side instead. Your weight is now on your right foot and the ball of your left foot.
Then while keeping your left heel off of the floor, push your left leg back and slightly bend the left knee. As you do this movement, watch your right knee. Bend down low enough so that your right knee is directly above your right ankle with your right thigh parallel to the floor.
Now keep your right leg in this position. Without disturbing your right knee, rotate your left leg outward from your hip to place your left heel back down on the floor with the toes of your left foot turned slightly in. Now you can lean back against the wall to straighten your back as you reach to the right side with your left arm.
If you put too much weight onto your front foot in this pose, you lose the correct balance. You can practice keeping more weight on the back foot by using a yoga block. Place the block underneath the ball of your front foot so that only your heel presses down into the mat. The block should lie on its shortest side, keeping the ball of your foot and toes only about 2 inches above the floor. Then practice the Extended Side Angle Pose as normal, feeling how your weight shifts back more into your back foot to deepen the stretch.
You can also get a deeper opening in your chest by practicing this pose while placing the lower arm right in front of the thigh of your bent knee. As you reach over, press the back of your right shoulder slightly into the inside of your knee as you press your fingers into the floor. Pushing your shoulder into your knee gives you leverage to rotate your torso up and left shoulder back more, creating more space around the upper chest and sternum.
Ask a partner to help you work on improving the balance of weight between your front and back legs in this pose. While you practice this pose extending toward your right side, place the belt around the bottom of your right hip bone just above the crease where the top of your thigh joins your hip.
Your partner should stand on your left side, holding both ends of the belt in their hands. Then as you bend your right knee down and stretch your left arm to the right, they should pull slightly on the belt around your right hip just enough to prevent you from collapsing too much toward your right side. Press your left heel down hard into the floor against the resistance of the belt's pull to expand your hips and create the proper extension.
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