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In a yoga popularity contest, side bends may not get a lot of votes. But I will wildly raise my hand in support of these amazing postures. First off, side bending is not a common action in our daily lives, which means we are majorly lacking in—and longing for—the release and space a side bend offers. They improve breathing capacity by stretching your intercostal muscles, relieve lower back pain by releasing your QL, and serve as a fantastic prep for backbends. Here, choose from four side bends to suit your current mood.
Your Mood: Nice + Mellow
Your Side Bend: Standing Side Bend
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your lower belly as you release your tailbone to keep your pelvis neutral. Extend both of your arms up overhead with your palms facing each other. Clasp your right wrist with your left hand apply gentle pressure pulling your arm toward the left while keeping your shoulder in the socket in external rotation. Shift your left ribcage toward your right to broaden the area (imagine you ribs are like a fan being opened). Gaze down and take 8 breaths. Repeat on the second side.
Your Mood: Strong + Fiery
Your Side Bend: Reverse Warrior
Begin in Warrior II with front heel-to-back arch alignment. Keep your right knee stacking over your heel and pressure in the pinky edge of your left foot to wake up your arch. Lightly dust your left hand down the back seam of your leg (you should be able to lift this hand at any given moment). Fan your right ribs open while keeping the lower belly active. Offer your left ribs toward the right ribs to prevent collapsing into your bottom side. Externally rotate your top arm and sweep it up and back to complete the pose. Gaze up under the arm or down at the ground to relax your neck. Take 8 full breaths and then continue to the second side.
Your Mood: Gentle + Stable
Your Side Bend: Gate Pose
Start on both knees. Extend your left leg directly out to the side, so that your leg is straight, toes point forward, and your foot is in line with your knee. Press into the pinky edge of your left foot (think of the same actions in the back leg as Reverse Warrior). You might want to pivot your right shin and foot in toward the center just a pinch to stabilize your balance. Trickle your left hand down your leg (it can rest on your thigh or outer shin, just not the knee) as you sweep your right arm up, externally rotate, and extend your bicep over your right ear. Gaze up or down at the ground. Repeat the actions of the ribs as seen in the first two variations. Take 8 breaths and switch sides.
Your Mood: Deep Challenge
Your Side Bend: Revolved Bound Gate Pose
Sit on the ground with your legs open in a wide V shape. Bend your right knee and place the sole of your foot flat on the ground with your toes spinning out to a 45-degree angle. Lean your left side toward your left leg, aiming your shoulder toward your thigh. Reach your left hand over to grab your right ankle as you take your right arm up, externally rotate, and clasp the outer edge of your left foot. Use this grip combined with a gentle press of your left shoulder into your left thigh to revolve your chest open. Gaze up or look down for 8 breaths. Switch sides.
About Kathryn Budig
Kathryn Budig is the yoga teacher behind AIM TRUE, a regular writer for Yoga Journal, and a presenter at Yoga Journal LIVE!