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 this pose, balance the energetic vitality you generate in this twist with kind and conscious self-reflection. Connect with your breath again and again. Before moving deeper into the 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.Section divider
Revolved Side Angle basics
Sanskrit: Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (par-ee-vrt-tah parsh-vah-cone-AHS-anna)
parivrtta = to turn around, revolve
parsva = side, flank
kona = angle
Pose type: Twist
Targets: full-body flexibilitySection divider
Revolved Side Angle is a confidence-building posture that strengthens and stretches your entire body, improves balance, and can boost energy and fight fatigue. Like all twists, this pose massages your digestive tract and abdominal organs, which stimates proper digestion and can ease constipation. In your front leg, Revolved Side Angle strengthens your hip flexors and shins while stretching your glutes, inner thighs, and ankles. In your back leg, this posture stretches hip flexors (including the psoas), the back of your thighs (hamstrings) and calf muscles while strenghthening your thigh and glutes.
Other Revolved Side Angle perks:
- Improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting and computer work
- Strengthens your core, including your abdominals and back muscles
- Stretches and strengthens around your shoulder joints
- Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), keeping both sides of your waist equally long.
- Step your right foot forward so your toes are in line with your fingertips; adjust your foot slightly to the right.
- Bend until your front knee creates a right angle with your thigh parallel to the floor and your knee stacked over your ankle. Notice that your right hip is hiked up, shortening your right waist.
- Pin your right outer hip back and in toward your left heel while keeping your right knee stacked over your right heel.
- Keeping your left leg absolutely straight, pivot your left heel to the floor and create a 45-degree angle with your foot.
- Line up heel to heel or a little wider. Inhale, and raise your arms, coming into Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I).
- Exhale; keep the length in your torso and draw your palms together in front of your sternum.
- Inhale, and lengthen from your left heel to your crown.
- Exhale, and hook your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, twisting to the right.
- Immediately press your right knee to the right to keep it in line with your second toe; this action will also help to pin your right outer hip into your midline.
- Keep your sternum facing the front of your mat rather than letting it drift in the direction of the twist.
- If your left leg is sagging toward the mat as you twist, push back with your left heel, and vigorously press your left thigh back.
- Keeping your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, place your left hand on the floor to the outside of your right ankle, and reach your right arm past your ear, palm down.
- Look beneath your right upper arm toward the wall behind you.
- With each inhalation, lengthen from your back heel to your top hand, maintaining the integrity of the central axis.
- With each exhalation, revolve around that length, spinning your left ribs forward and your right ribs back and up.
- Hold for 5–10 breaths, then release your hands to the floor, and step back to Downward-Facing Dog.
- Repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
- There’s a lot happening at once in Revolved Side Angle. When you strain to keep your back foot down before you’re ready, you can overextend your shoulders and spine, strain your hamstrings, and pretty much ensure soreness along your ribs for several days. Instead, lift your heel and pivot onto the ball of your foot to come into a lunge. Do not keep your back heel angled out to the side when it’s lifted. After you become more comfortable with the twist portion of the pose and more flexible in your hamstrings, you can work toward keeping the back foot grounded on the mat.
- Breathe. It can be easy, when struggling to come into an intense twist, to hold your breath or let it become shallow without even realizing it. Yet this counteracts your goal by creating more physical tension throughout your body, which is pretty much the last thing you need in an intense twist. Take a moment to pause and draw your inhales deep toward your hips and slowly release your exhales. Pretend you’re in Child’s Pose.
- If your right hip juts out to the side—which can happen if you are tight there—keep your back heel lifted and drop your right sitting bone down.
- Often yogis think they have to look up in Revolved Side Angle. But if it’s a strain to look up, don’t. Instead, look straight ahead or down at the floor. You never need to endure any sort of uncomfortableness in your cervical vertebrae in any pose. Listen to your body.
Avoid or modify this pose if you have a hamstring or groin tear or injury. You also might want to skip Revolved Side Angle pose if you have acute back pain or injuries such as osteporosis, disc bulging, herniation, arthritis or SI (sacroilian pain). If you have poor balance, consider pose variations that use a chair or the wall for stability.
If you have shoulder pain, numbness, tingling, or shooting when you lift your top arm, try keeping your hand on your hip.
This is a very deep standing twist. Be careful not to twist the lower spine. Focus the twist in the mid- to upper-back, gently developing more flexibility there without torque.
If it is difficult to reach the floor outside your opposite foot, use a block to raise the floor to you.
If you have trouble keeping your back heel on the floor, practice the pose with that heel against a wall.
A partner can help you deepen the twist in this pose. Perform the pose with the outside of your back leg and hip braced against a wall (for the purposes of this description we’ll say you’re twisting to the right with your left leg and hip on the wall). Have your partner sit on the floor outside your right thigh and hip, facing you. She should press one foot against your outer thigh, just above the knee, and the other foot against your right hip (now the pelvis is squeezed between your partner’s foot and the wall). Reach your left arm out toward your partner. She should grasp the forearm and gently tug the arm toward her as she pushes her feet on the thigh and hip. Have her pull according to your capacity.Section divider
Revolved Side Angle variations
If your shoulders are tight, you can perform this pose with your hands in a modified Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Perform steps 1 through 4 in the main description above. Press the bent elbow against the outside of the bent knee, but don’t straighten the arm. Then bend the top elbow and press your palms together. You probably won’t be able to touch your thumbs to your sternum, as you do in traditional Anjali Mudra. Open your elbows wide, stretching your bottom elbow toward the floor, the top elbow toward the ceiling. Use the pressure of the elbow against the knee and the palms against each other like a crank to increase the twist in the upper back.
Or, try one of these creative variations:
Revolved Side Angle with bent knee
If you are struggling with balance or stability, place your back knee on the floor. For comfort you may wish to rest it on a folded blanket.
Revolved Side Angle with block
Instead of placing your hands on the floor, this variation uses a block for stability. Place a block at any height on the inside of your foot.
Start in a high lunge with your left foot forward. Bring the block to the inside of your left foot. Bring your right hand to the block and twist your torso so your chest opens toward your bent knee. Reach your left arm up toward the ceiling.
Stay here for several breaths, then come out of the pose the same way you came into it. Repeat on the other side.
If the variation with a block does not give you enough height, try the pose with your hand on a chair instead.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Warm up your legs and spine before practicing Revolved Side Angle Pose. Counter with gentle forward bends and arm balances.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Bharadvajasana I (Bharadvaja’s Twist)
Counter posesSection divider
Your body in Revolved Side Angle | Anatomy
Two stories take place simultaneously in this pose: lunging forward and turning your torso. Turning your shoulders in one direction and your pelvis in the other stretches the core muscles surrounding your spine.
Your skeletal system is divided into the axial and appendicular skeletons. The latter is further divided into the arms and shoulder girdle (upper section) and the legs and pelvic girdle (lower section). The axial skeleton includes the vertebral column and thorax. Just as the earth revolves around its axis, when you connect the upper and lower appendicular skeletons, as in this pose, you can rotate the body around its axis—the vertebral column.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
The muscles on the inside of the front hip—the psoas, pectineus, and anterios adductors—work together to bend that hip. Muscles along the outside of the front hip and those beside the large buttock muscle—the tensior fascia lata and gluteus medius —cooperate to press your knee against your elbow, helping you twist more deeply.
The muscles along the outside of your lower leg help press the ball of your foot downward, and turn your ankle slightly outward.
Your large buttock muscle, the gluteus maximus, moves your back hip to the rear and turns it outward. Your back hip is pressed further back and also drawn toward your midline by the adductor magnus—the large muscle along the inside of your thigh.
Your quadriceps straighten your back knee.
The rear deltoid of your lower arm deepens the twist by extending your shoulder. This action presses your elbow onto your knee and opens the lower half of your chest.
The pectoralis major and biceps brachii of your upper arm work to deepen the twist by pressing your upper palm into your lower palm. This force is transmitted into your lower elbow at your knee, further leveraging the twist and opening your chest.
The oblique abdominal muscles that angle across your abdomen twist your trunk and spine.
(Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga.)Section divider
Put Revolved Side Angle into practice
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana is part of the Ashtanga Primary Series, but it is also featured in other flows. Here are just a few to try:
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.