Peaceful Revolution


By Elise Browning Miller  |  

My students sometimes ask me how I’ve stayed interested in a yoga practice for 40 years. There are many reasons, but the main one is that it helps me face difficulty in a balanced way. I’ve learned to witness my reactions to difficult poses on my mat and to respond with care and skillfulness. This type of measured, artful response translates to life off the mat, too.

The yogic prescription for successfully facing difficulty is to approach each challenge with equal parts zealous enthusiasm (tapas) and nonviolence (ahimsa). If you work with too much tapas, you risk becoming too aggressive. If you have ahimsa without tapas, you risk lacking the fire required to take action. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose) is a perfect pose for practicing this approach of balancing tapas with ahimsa. Known as an intense and difficult standing twist, it unites a lateral standing pose, a twist, and a backbend. It requires balance, flexibility, strength, and tenacity—and, you might say, even a little fire to get you raring to go.

As you practice, balance the energetic vitality generated by these twists with kind and conscious self-reflection. Connect with your breath again and again. Avoid rushing or moving quickly into and out of the poses. Use this opportunity to develop vigor without sacrificing presence, and check that your enthusiasm doesn’t lead you to aggressively overwork a pose. Before moving deeper into a pose, pause. See where your body feels open to movement and, in the spirit of ahimsa, open into that space. If your thoughts feel negative and intrusive, consider stepping off the mat for a moment and writing them in a journal.

In time, you may notice that practicing this way sometimes brings with it a state of deep peacefulness. You needn’t attach to this as a desired outcome; it’s just a beautiful bonus that often arises when you face difficulty with this tried-and-true yogic approach.

Note: This sequence is not recommended if you have shoulder or sacroiliac injuries or if you are pregnant.

Before You Begin

A great amount of heat is needed (and generated) throughout the sequence on the following pages. This will help warm your body and prepare your muscles to release into the full-body twist of Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. Start with 3 to 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). Then, continue with 5 to 10 breaths in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), Parighasana (Gate Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) to open your shoulders and hips.

Listen: Practice along to a live audio recording of Elise Browning Miller teaching this Master Class sequence at yogajournal.com/livemag.

1. Ardha Matsyendrasana: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose

Ardha Matsyendrasana will create stability in the pelvis and free the torso for movement. Sit with your back to a wall in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend the left knee and sit on the left heel. If this feels uncomfortable, sit on a blanket or place a blanket between the foot and your seat. Then, place the right foot to the outside of the left thigh. Root down through your seat and right foot and connect with your breath.

On an inhalation, reach the left arm up. On an exhalation, place the left arm to the outside of the right leg as you twist. Check in to make sure you’re not being aggressive. Can you release any places that are tensing up?

Reach your right arm behind you and place your hand on the wall. Press the right hand into the wall and engage the outer hips in toward the center of your body. Lengthen your spine and lift through the crown of your head. Move your torso forward, bringing the left arm farther down the right leg. Press the left arm and the right thigh against each other and, as the twist deepens, move the right hand farther back on the wall.

Keep rooting down through your sitting bones to stabilize your pelvis. Broaden your chest by widening your collarbones. Look over your right shoulder.

If you feel spacious and your breathing is fluid, start to twist deeper, taking your left armpit to the outside of the right leg. Reach the right arm behind you, and bind your fingers or hold your right hand or wrist with your left hand.

Reach your hands down toward the floor, lift the spine, and twist deeply from the back of your left ribs. Breathe, softening the outer eyes and temples. Hold for a minute or less; then release into Dandasana before taking the second side. You can repeat this pose (and every other pose in this sequence) up to three times to encourage ease of movement before moving on to the next pose.

2. Utthita Parsvakonasana: Extended Side Angle Pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana will bring heat and vitality to your legs as well as lengthening your side body. There’s also a subtle twist (or not so subtle, once you notice it) as the side of the torso that’s closest to the floor rotates toward the ceiling.

Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and step your feet 4 to 4 and a half feet apart. Extend your arms in line with the shoulders, turning the right leg out 90 degrees and the left foot in slightly. Bend the right knee over the ankle until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. On an exhalation, take your right hand down to the outside of your right ankle. If your breath feels compromised, place your hand on a block.

Extend your left arm over the left ear and then back slightly, as if you were reaching behind you. Turn your head to look up past the thumb. Use your left leg as an anchor and strongly press the left heel into the floor. Find freedom as you extend through the side body from the left ribs to the left fingertips.

Move the middle right buttock forward in the direction of your pubic bone as you pull the inner right thigh back toward the right side of your mat. Press the right thigh and the right arm against each other. Rotate your chest and abdomen toward the ceiling and hold for up to a minute here.

As you observe the sensations of this intense side stretch and twist, keep your eyes soft, relax the jaw and throat, and find a balance of peacefulness within. Root down through your feet and legs to come back up to center. Step or jump into Tadasana before taking the second side.

3. Parivrtta Trikonasana: Revolved Triangle Pose

Parivrtta Trikonasana is a deep twist where you’ll build heat and practice hugging your hips into the midline of your body in order to establish stability in your pelvis.

Take your feet 3 to 3 and a half feet apart and extend your arms out to the side in line with your shoulders. Turn your right leg out and your left foot in. Lift your kneecaps, making the legs firm. Exhale and rotate your entire trunk to the right, placing your left hand on the floor to the outside of your right foot.

Fire up the discipline and take an honest look at creating more stability in the pose and more ease in your breath. If your chest collapses inward or your back heel lifts, place your left hand on a block.

Lift your right arm and press the outer left heel into the floor. Pull the inner left thigh back as you extend your spine forward. Pull the outer thighs up toward your hips and then pull the outer hips in toward the centerline of your body. Move the inner left thigh and right outer hip back and see if any space opens to move deeper into the twist.

Now, just as you would squeeze the base of a tube of toothpaste toward the opening, squeeze from your hips toward the crown of your head, getting compact and long through your entire torso.

Release the shoulder blades down the back and press the bottom tips of your shoulder blades in toward your front chest. Create a slight backbend in your upper back and spread out through the collarbones to expand your chest.

Keep the crown of your head in line with your spine, look up, and continue to maintain stability in your pelvis and length in your spine for up to a minute here. Check in again with your breath as you relax your face, eyes, jaw, and throat.

See if you can tap into a sense of quiet that comes to the mind when you are truly in the moment. On an exhalation, release out of the pose and pause for a moment in Tadasana before taking the left side.

4. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana: Revolved Side Angle Pose (variation)

This preparation for Parivrtta Parsvakonasana will give you all the bits of the full pose in bite-size pieces. You will practice keeping your chest open in the twist as you give yourself a leg up (literally!).

Place a folding chair with the back close to a wall. Stand beside your chair with the right side of the body next to the wall, and place your right foot on the seat. Step your left foot back 3 and a half to 4 feet.

Stack your right knee over the ankle. Square your hips to the side edge of the chair and stretch back through your left leg, keeping your left heel lifted. Exhale and cross the left arm over the right thigh, placing your hands on the wall. As you press into the wall, open the front of your chest. Press the left arm and right thigh against each other and twist to the right.

Hug your hips inward and bring the outer shoulder blades in toward the spine. Keep your head in line with your shoulders and pelvis. Adjust the front of your pelvis so it’s parallel to the side of the chair, and stretch from your left inner groin through the inner knee to the inner heel. Lift the inner left thigh toward the ceiling. Lengthen the spine through the crown of the head.

Stay for up to a minute and encourage a feeling of calm as you settle into the pose. Allow your consciousness to spread throughout every cell. On an exhalation, slowly release and stand in Tadasana for a moment before changing sides.

5. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana: Revolved Side Angle Pose

This is an ideal pose to practice balancing vigor with quiet calm in the midst of intensity. Stand in Tadasana and step your feet wide apart. Extend your arms in line with the shoulders. Turn your right leg out and the left foot in, bend the right knee, and twist to the right. On an exhalation, place your left elbow to the outside of the right thigh. If rooting the left heel down keeps you from breathing freely or taking your left arm to the outside of your right leg, lift the left heel but keep extending back through your leg. Balance the fire of discipline with kindness.

Place your right hand on your waist and open the right side of the chest. Move the shoulder blades down the back and press the bottom tips of the shoulder blades onto the back ribs. Align the pelvis so that both hip points face the floor.

Now slide the back of the left armpit toward the outer right thigh and bring your fingertips to the floor. If this is difficult, bend the left knee to the floor. Then reach deeper, bring your fingertips to the floor or to a block, and see if you have the space to lift and extend back through the left leg. Extend your right arm straight up and then over your head diagonally.

On an inhalation, lengthen the spine toward the crown of the head. On an exhalation, twist deeper, finding a balance between the two actions. Work each part of your body with equal vigor to find a vast space beyond the physical and a sweet sense of peacefulness. Stay for up to a minute; then exhale, release the twist slowly, and come back to Tadasana before taking the left side.

To Finish

Lengthen the spine in Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), Halasana (Plow Pose), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Finish with a 10-minute Savasana (Corpse Pose).

Sit for a moment and reflect on your practice. Even when difficulty arises in life off the mat, finding balance between tapas and ahimsa can bring transformation and lovingkindness to your life.

Listen: Practice along to a live audio recording of Elise Browning Miller teaching this Master Class sequence at yogajournal.com/livemag.

Elise Browning Miller is a certified senior Iyengar Yoga teacher.