How to Practice Extended Side Angle Pose: Utthita Parsvakonasana Instructions
Learning how to practice Extended Side Angle pose is important as this foundational standing yoga pose is found in most styles of yoga. We see this pose in many yoga classes and it is helpful to know how to do Extended Side Angle, sometimes known as Utthita Parsvakonasana, safely and effectively.
History of Extended Side Angle Pose: Understanding Utthita Parsvakonasana
Extended Side Angle Pose, known in Sanskrit as "Utthita Parsvakonasana" (utthita means "extended", parsva means "side", and kona means "angle"), is a foundational pose found in many yoga sequences. Like many asanas, the historical origins of Extended Side Angle Pose are not extensively documented in ancient texts, but its roots and the development of its practice can be discussed in the broader context of yoga's evolution.
Yoga's Ancient Roots: The ancient Indian texts like the Vedas and Upanishads make references to ascetic practices and meditative postures but do not describe the physical postures in detail. The modern postural practice, as we know it, evolved over centuries and was more significantly shaped in the last hundred years or so.
Medieval Period: Texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century) describe certain asanas, but these are mostly seated or simple postures intended to prepare the body for meditation. Utthita Parsvakonasana is not described in these classical texts.
Modern Evolution: The physical practice of yoga underwent significant transformation in the 19th and 20th centuries. This period saw the synthesis of traditional yogic practices with influences from Western gymnastics, bodybuilding, and military training exercises. It was during this period that many of the asanas practiced today, including standing poses like Utthita Parsvakonasana, began to be more widely taught and incorporated into the yogic repertoire.
T. Krishnamacharya: Often referred to as the "father of modern yoga", Krishnamacharya played a pivotal role in shaping the physical practices of yoga in the 20th century. At the Mysore Palace, he taught a dynamic asana practice, which included poses like the Extended Side Angle. His students, including B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, further propagated these teachings and styles, leading to the popularization of such asanas worldwide.
Symbolism & Significance: While there may not be a direct mythological story attached to Utthita Parsvakonasana, the pose, like many in yoga, can be interpreted symbolically. The groundedness of the feet combined with the expansive stretch can represent a balance between grounding and reaching or between stability and freedom.
In modern practice, the Extended Side Angle Pose is appreciated for its many physical benefits, including strengthening various parts of the body, improving flexibility, and enhancing stamina. However, like many poses in contemporary yoga, it's essential to recognize that while they might not have ancient origins, they are still meaningful and beneficial components of the practice.
How to Do Extended Side Angle Pose: Utthita Parsvakonasana Instructions
Extended Side Angle Pose, or Utthita Parsvakonasana, offers a deep stretch along the side of the body and strengthens various muscle groups. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you practice the pose:
Starting Position: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the top of your mat.
Step Out: Take a large step back with your right foot, roughly 3 to 4 feet apart, depending on your height and comfort. Open your arms wide, parallel to the ground, so they align with your legs.
Position Feet: Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right and your left foot slightly inwards, about 45 degrees.
Engage Hips: Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Square your hips to the long edge of your mat.
Bend Front Knee: Exhale and bend your right knee until it stacks over the ankle, aiming for a 90-degree angle.
Lower Torso: Inhale, then exhale and lower your right torso towards the right thigh. Place your right hand either on the ground, on a yoga block, or on your ankle/shin, whatever feels comfortable. Make sure not to rest heavily on the leg or the floor/block; the aim is to engage your core and legs to maintain the pose.
Extend Top Arm: Extend your left arm overhead, palm facing down, creating a straight line from your left foot up through your left fingertips. This is the "extended" aspect of the pose. Your gaze can be neutral, looking straight ahead, or you can turn your head and look up past your left arm.
Engage Core: Keep your core engaged and both sides of your waist long. Ensure that the chest remains open, and the spine is extended.
Maintain Strong Foundation: Ground down through the outer edge of your back foot and press actively through the back leg.
Hold the Pose: Breathe deeply and evenly. Hold the pose for several breaths.
Exiting the Pose: Inhale and press into your feet, rising back up to a standing position with arms extended at shoulder height. Straighten your right knee, turn your feet forward, and bring your hands to your hips.
Repeat on the Opposite Side: Turn your left foot out and your right foot slightly in, and repeat the pose on the left side.
- It's essential to keep the front knee aligned with the second toe to prevent it from collapsing inward.
- A yoga block can be beneficial, especially if you're unable to comfortably reach the floor. Place it on the inside of your front foot and rest your hand on it.
- Keep your chest open and avoid collapsing forward. Think of "twisting" the torso open, keeping the heart space wide.
Remember to always listen to your body and adjust the pose as needed. If you're new to this pose or have specific physical concerns, it might be helpful to practice under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.
How to Modify Extended Side Angle Pose
Modifying Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) can make it more accessible and comfortable, especially for beginners, those with injuries, or practitioners with limited mobility. Here are several ways to modify this pose:
Use of Props:
- Yoga Block: If you can't comfortably reach the floor with your hand, place a yoga block (on any of its three heights) under your hand. This decreases the distance you need to reach and offers support.
- Wall: Practicing the pose against a wall can help with balance. Have the back foot's outer edge touching the base of the wall for additional stability.
- Instead of extending the arm and placing the hand on the floor or a block, you can place your forearm on your bent knee. This offers more support for the upper body.
- The top arm can be placed on the waist if extending it overhead is challenging or uncomfortable.
- Decrease the distance between your feet. A smaller stance might feel more stable and is less intense on the legs and hips.
- If the back foot's external rotation is uncomfortable, you can adjust the angle to a position that feels better.
- Instead of looking up, which might strain the neck, you can keep your gaze neutral or even look down.
Chair Support: For those who find standing poses challenging, you can practice a version of the pose using a chair:
- Sit sideways on a chair, with one leg bent (foot on the ground) and the other extended straight out, mimicking the legs in Extended Side Angle Pose.
- From here, lean to the side, following the usual cues for the pose but in a seated position.
Depth of the Pose:
- You don't have to bend deeply into the front knee. A smaller bend might be more accessible for some practitioners. Just ensure the knee doesn't move past the ankle.
Reduce Torso Angle: If leaning to the side is too intense, you can maintain a more upright torso and still experience a side stretch.
Remember, yoga is about personal exploration, so it's essential to find a version of the pose that allows you to experience its benefits without strain or discomfort. Always prioritize alignment and safety, and make adjustments based on what feels right for your body.
If you're interested in learning more about how to practice Extended Side Angle Pose or even how to teach Utthita Parsvakonasana, we invite you to join us in one of our online yoga teacher training programs. We have the best 200 hr ytt online and 300 hr ytt online to support you!