Intense Side Stretch Pose
parsva = side, flank
ut = intense
tan = to stretch or extend (compare the Latin verb tendere, “to stretch or extend”)
Step by Step
Stand in Tadasana . With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3½ to 4 feet apart. Rest your hands on your hips. Turn your left foot in 45 to 60 degrees to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the center of the right knee cap is in line with the center of the right ankle.
Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, squaring the front of your pelvis as much as possible with the front edge of your mat. As the left hip point turns forward, press the head of the left femur back to ground the back heel. Press your outer thighs inward, as if squeezing a block between your thighs. Firm your scapulas against your back torso, lengthen your coccyx toward the floor, and arch your upper torso back slightly.
With another exhalation, lean the torso forward from the groins over the right leg. Stop when the torso is parallel to the floor. Press your fingertips to the floor on either side of the right foot. If it isn’t possible for you to touch the floor, support your hands on a pair of blocks or the seat of a folding chair. Press the thighs back and lengthen the torso forward, lifting through the top of the sternum.
In this pose the front-leg hip tends to lift up toward the shoulder and swing out to the side, which shortens the front-leg side. Be sure to soften the front-leg hip toward the earth and away from the same-side shoulder while you continue squeezing the outer thighs. Press the base of the big toe and the inner heel of the front foot firmly into the floor, then lift the inner groin of the front leg deep into the pelvis.
Hold your torso and head parallel to the floor for a few breaths. Then, if you have the flexibility, bring the front torso closer to the top of the thigh, but don’t round forward from the waist to do this. Eventually the long front torso will rest down on the thigh. Hold your maximum position for 15 to 30 seconds, then come up with an inhalation by pressing actively through the back heel and dragging the coccyx first down and then into the pelvis. Then go to the left side.
- Calms the brain
- Stretches the spine, shoulders and wrists (in the full pose), hips, and hamstrings
- Strengthens the legs
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
- Improves posture and sense of balance
- Improves digestion
Contraindications and Cautions
If you have a back injury or high blood pressure, avoid the full forward bend; instead do Ardha Parsvottanasana (pronounced are-dah = half). Perform steps 1 and 2 as described above, a couple of feet from and facing a wall. With an exhalation lower your torso parallel to the floor and reach your hands out to the wall. Press your palms actively into the wall (preferably with your elbows fully extended), keeping your front torso longer than your back.
There’s a middle position for the hands and arms, between having the hands on the floor and pressing them together behind the back. Simply cross the arms behind the back, parallel to the waist. Hold each elbow with the opposite hand. When the right leg is in front, bring the right arm around behind the back first; when the left leg is in front, bring the left arm first.
As mentioned above, the full version of this pose is performed with the hands behind the back in Anjali Mudra, a hand position sometimes called Pristanjali Mudra (prish-TOHN-jolly; prishta = “the back, the rear of anything”), or sometimes Paschima Namaskar (posh-EE-mah nam-AHS-car; pashima = “west”; namaskar = “to greet or salute”).
Stand in Tadasana with the hands in Anjali Mudra in front of the heart. Bend your knees slightly and round your back, hunching your shoulders. Exhale, inwardly rotate your arms and sweep them around behind your back. Press the palms together with the thumbs resting on your sacrum, so the fingers point toward the floor. First turn the wrists so the fingers point toward the sacrum, then continue turning until the fingers point toward your head. Your pinkies will now press against your back torso. Slide your hands up your back, lifting and opening your chest as you do. If you can, position the hands between the scapulas, with the pinkies pressing firmly against the spine. Keep the palms spreading together as much as possible. Roll the front shoulders up and back, and lengthen down from the back armpits through the elbows toward the floor. Now follow the instructions for the pose.
Modifications and Props
If you find your back heel lifting as you bend into this pose, practice with your back heel pressed to a wall. The heel’s contact with the wall will help you keep it grounded. Another way to work with a lifting heel is to raise it on a sandbag.
A partner can help you anchor the heads of the thighs, which in turn will help you ground the heels and lengthen the spine. Take the feet apart and turn the torso. Have your partner stand behind you and loop a strap over your groins, just in the creases where the thighs join the pelvis. Then bend forward into the pose. Your partner should pull firmly on the strap, dragging the groins deeper into the pelvis. From this action, press actively into the back heel and lengthen the spine over the front thigh.
Deepen The Pose
There are really two ways to position the torso over the front thigh in this pose. Beginners should align the midline of the torso over the inner side of the front thigh. Advanced students should rotate the torso and bring its midline down over the midline of the front thigh.