Unlike crazy arm balances and inversions, Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) is actually harder than it looks.
With Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) as the building block for this progression, the majority of the work is happening in the legs, knees and ankles. But the core region — the abdominal wall, obliques and back muscles — is also stimulated, so that the chest can open naturally as the side of the body extends into one beautiful, long plane.
I teach this pose in my classes that focus on core awakening and alignment, because there is so much emphasis on drawing into the midline of the body. Strengthening these crucial areas will support better posture and ultimately, improve balance. A strong foundation is the key to approaching more challenging asana with greater ease in the long run.
So as you can see, there's a lot going on here in this very basic-looking yoga pose! Here's what typically comes to mind when I practice and teach Extended Side Angle:
1. Am I pressing through the outer edge of my back foot?
This really is the foundation of the pose. When you can distribute your weight evenly through both feet, you take strain off the front quadricep and allow for a deeper stretch. Your inner thigh muscles extend to draw the back leg in toward the midline of your body.
2. Is my front knee stacked over my ankle?
The 90-degree bend of your front leg happens naturally, when the quadriceps and muscles of the shin are simultaneously activated. This alignment protects your ankle joint while supporting your bodyweight, and also prevents over-stretching of the hip and psoas. This action also works to facilitate the opening of your chest.
3. Is my shoulder stacked over my wrist?
When your bottom shoulder is stacked directly over your wrist to the floor, you automatically draw that shoulder away from your ear to create space and lengthening, as that shoulder blade is pulled away from the midline of your body. While many yogis practice side angle with the hand on the inside of the front foot, the hand should be placed just outside the foot for the full extended variation. This allows for greater expansion of the chest.
4. Is my gaze toward the sky?
When you allow your gaze to naturally follow your extended palm, you create greater opening through the chest. The neck should remain nice and long with the back of your head turning toward the floor.
5. Am I straightening through my arm?
Activating the tricep of the floating arm works to move it toward straight, just be sure to continue drawing that shoulder blade down the back, to prevent shrugging by the ears.
6. Is my chest rotating upward?
The muscles surrounding the thoracic spine engage to open your chest, activating the core as you draw the navel in and protecting your lower back.
7. Is my outer hip rotating upward?
The glute muscle of your back leg works to extend through your back hip muscle and turn the hip point upward.
Photo Credit: Beth Kessler for mindbodygreen, Graphic design by mbg creative
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