March 17th marks one year of the COVID-19 lock down for me. I remember first hearing the news that we would all be working from home for the next two weeks, and passed a few sly remarks to some friends wondering how many people would be answering Zoom meetings from the Bahamas come Monday. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When the reality sunk in of what was happening to the world, working from home started to feel like a trap within four walls.
Over the course of one year in the pandemic, I turned to my practice for a variety of needs. Ask somebody, “What does yoga mean to you?” and you’ll get a different answer every time. For me, yoga has always been about freedom. It’s the ability to get in tune with your body and test its edges, while getting a grip on your mind to let thoughts pass through, noticed but nothing more. As someone born with hyperlordosis, a spinal condition that affects my posture, feeling tight is an everyday occurrence. The psoas immediately jumped out to me as a point of tension that could slowly be relieved with consistent practice. The next thing I knew, a mobile psoas meant freedom in my body.
For a quick anatomy lesson on the psoas, this muscle is the primary connector between the trunk and the lower body. It attaches to the vertebrae on the lumbar spine and crosses the pelvis to attach at the femur. When your psoas is tight, it pulls the lumbar spine down and towards your femur, causing your back to arch, leading to stiffness. However, it works by way of eccentric contraction which means it lengthens when it’s being utilized instead of shortening like the bicep in concentric contraction. This makes side bends the perfect contender for stretching the psoas and giving my back some relief.
In an effort to feel free again after being confined to work from home for 365 days, Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) became my challenge pose for the month of March.
From Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) with your right foot forward, move your torso toward your right thigh. Press your right forearm into the top of your thigh. Stay elongated through your back leg. Trace your left arm across the front of your body in a swooping motion. When your left bicep is near your left cheekbone and your left armpit is near your face, draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. Keep your drishti—or gaze—upwards. Hold for 5 breaths.
Parsvakonasana is one of my favorite poses because the swoop feels so smooth, freeing, and fun. It provides a burst of happiness and is an expansive pose. The gentle twist opens up the heart to the room around you, and the lengthening in the side body is exactly what I’m looking for when I’m feeling bogged down in my room. While it’s not as technical as a more advanced pose like Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon), it still takes time, practice, and patience to get more comfortable with the expansion in the side body. Try it out the next time you feel like you need to break free.