There are some yoga poses that can teach us to pay more attention, to be more present, so that we are treating our bodies with kindness, keep us on the original life path, and even reduce the risk of physical injury. One such pose that I teach often in class is Extended Side Angle Pose. When done properly, one can experience hip opening, a side body stretch, practice core strength, and good alignment. When done without integrity, we sometimes miss the benefits of this posture. To work into this pose, it may take a simple act of modifying.
If you open up a Yoga Journal Magazine, what we see are wonderful yoga models demonstrating dynamic postures. For some, this can be intimating, thinking, “I could NEVER do that.” With that in mind, one may never experience the benefits of yoga and never step into a yoga class. For others, looking at those picture-book poses may create the mindset that that is the ONLY way to do the posture to experience benefit. But more often than not, when one tries to replicate those poses, they may not get the fullest benefit from the pose or they may even harm themselves. The poses in Yoga Journal are great PICTURES, but not every body can do those postures in the same way. We have to remember that when practicing yoga, we are allowed to modify the pose to fit YOUR own body.
This is actually one of my favorite poses to do and to teach. You can really gain some great flexibility performing this posture over time. The secret is...take your time. Move gently into the pose. Start with modifications of the posture then eventually ease yourself deeper into the posture over time.
Start in Warrior Two. This is a pose of strength and confidence. Be very aware of your own strength, yet stay humble and gracious for that strength. Don’t allow ego to take you too much into your head in regards to your own strength.
For good alignment, be sure your upper body is straight and tall and your legs are extended equally from your center. With your right foot in front, be sure the knee is bent (moving toward 90 degrees) and the knee is stacked directly over (or slightly behind) you ankle. The back (left) leg is straight with the entire foot pressing into the yoga mat. Your arms are extending outward and are parallel to the floor. Make sure there is energy moving all the way through your arms and out your fingertips. Your focus is over your right hand.
To move into Extended Side Angle, start reaching out over your right leg (perhaps toward a wall out in front of you). Your torso will begin to angle. Be sure to keep your hips and feet solid. It’s just an upper body movement. Keep moving along this plain. Imagine your back is up against a wall. Slide along that imaginary wall. When you cannot move forward anymore without pulling away from your imaginary wall, turn your arms so your right hand is extended down toward the floor while the other is reaching up toward the ceiling.
The Common “Mistake:”
The Yoga Picture Books often show the model touching the floor with their palm while the other is extended up toward the ceiling. (They’re often smiling, too!) What happens if YOU bring your palm to the floor? What did you notice? What often happens is you begin to pull away from the imaginary wall. The body begins to bend over (like you’re sitting back into a chair)....out of alignment from the original pose. Your butt will stick out, you’ve collapsed into your hips, and the top of your head is pointing off to the side rather than staying in line with your front knee and toes.
Instead of THINKING you HAVE to touch the floor, try this modification. Once you begin to reach out over your right knee (remember, your back is still up against the imaginary wall), bend the right arm at 90 degrees, then rest it lightly on your thigh. Then extend your left hand toward the ceiling. This modification will keep you aligned and in the full integrity of the pose, AND you reap the greatest benefits here. (Now you can smile!)
When the body is aligned this way, your back will stay against your “wall,” the top of your head is pointing in the same direction as your knee and toes, you experience more opening in the inner thighs and hips, and strengthen your core body. Over time, you may not need to rest your arm on your leg. As your body continues to open and release, you’ll find that you’ll start to reach down and actually touch the floor. (Just remember that you really NEVER HAVE to touch the floor, though.) I have not read in any yoga rules books that suggest that you HAVE to touch the floor in this pose. You MAY eventually touch the floor which is just a sign of your progress. Stay humble. Stay gracious.
Do the pose on the other side for balance.