Giving a powerful opening of your chest, hamstrings and hips, Pyramid Pose, also known as Intense Side Stretch Pose, is a must-do stretch to add to your routine if you sit for long periods of time. It's Sanskrit name is Parsvottanasana.
(Pronounced as "PARSH-voh-TAHN-AHS-anna")
The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word Parsvottanasana is "an intense extension of the side or flank."
Stand erect on your yoga mat with your feet together in Tadasana. Take a breath. On your exhalation, jump your feet about 4-5 feet apart. Your heels should be in a straight line with each other, and the toes of both feet should point straight in front of you. Now turn your feet to the right. Your right heel stays planted in place as you turn the right foot out 90 degrees. Your left heel also stays planted as you turn your left foot 60 degrees to the right.
Now the rest of your torso should follow the twist to the right so that your hips and torso face the wall to your right. Press down your weight firmly through your back left heel to keep your balance. Keep both legs straight. Put your hands on your hips and lift your head all the way up and back to look at the ceiling. Let this lift lead you into arching your chest up. Focus on lengthening your entire spine.
Inhale as you stretch up. Then on an exhalation, keep your head back as you bend forward from your inner groin. As your chest comes down first, bend down over your right thigh and try to bring your nose to touch your knee. Otherwise, stop bending forward whenever you reach as far as you can go and put your fingertips down on the mat next to both sides of your right leg. If you cannot reach down far enough to touch the floor, then put your fingertips on top of two yoga blocks, one next to either side of your right leg. Focus on pushing down hard on your back heel and elongating your spine forward.
Concentrate on pressing more weight down on your right big toe to help keep your legs and hips in alignment. You can put one hand on your lower back to check that your sacrum stays level. You should not have either side of your lower back sticking up higher than the other side.
It is good to practice holding your head and torso at a parallel level with the floor for several breaths. If you are comfortable bending forward more, then do bend forward. However, do not round your back to do this bending. The movement should come from the top of your hips with your back staying as straight as possible. Stay in the final pose for 30 seconds.
To come out, breathe in as you lift your torso up by initiating the movement from your pelvis again. Turn your feet to the left side and repeat all these steps on the left side, holding them for the same duration.
Often the back heel will lift up from your mat as you bend forward. To avoid this mistake, practice this pose with a wall behind you so that you can brace your back heel against the wall. Shorten the distance between your legs also. Once the pose is easier for you, then you can increase the distance between your legs again.
When you first learn this posture, it is enough to focus on keeping the fronts of both hip bones facing forward while bending down to touch the knee with your chin. Once you have more experience in this pose, then practice rotating your torso when you bend forward so that your belly button touches near the center of the top of your front thigh.
To perform the full variation of Parsvottanasana, first stand up straight with your feet together in Tadasana. Put your hands behind your back and press your palms together, rotating the hands so that your fingers point up toward your head. You need to lift your sternum and expand your chest forward. That allows more space for the pinky sides of your hands to press into the middle of your back, fitting right in between your shoulder blades. Try to press the entire surface of your palms against each other and pull your elbows and shoulders back. Your hands are now in Paschima Namaskar, which means "backward-facing salute" in Sanskrit.
Keep the hands together as you continue. Now jump if you can to spread your feet apart and then turn your feet to point to the side. Lift your head up, raise your chest and then bend your torso forward over your straightened front leg. Your chest should lead the forward-bending movement.
Come into the pose as normal but stop at the part where you are about to bend your torso forward. Ask a partner to kneel behind you as they place a yoga belt around your front leg. The belt should go around the front thigh right above your knee. Then they should hold both ends of the belt in their hands and pull the belt slightly as you bend forward. This resistance will stop you from accidentally bending your front knee, helping you to focus more on pushing your legs back for stability.
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