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Modify Parsvottanasana if needed to find safe alignment for your body.
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If you’re unable to keep both legs straight with your fingers on the floor …
Try putting your hands on blocks just below the shoulders at whichever height enables you to hinge at your hips (not spine) and straighten your legs without strain. When the hamstrings are tight, they shorten and pull the pelvis into a tucked position, which flattens your lumbar curve and can cause low-back tension. To find length in the hamstrings, the pelvis needs to tilt forward so the sitting bones can lift.
If you are still unable to straighten your legs with your hands on blocks, or simply want to move into the pose gradually …
Try starting with your hands on the wall at hip height or higher. With your arms straight, position your front foot about a foot from the wall. Firm your legs and push your hands into the wall to help create a healthy curve in your lumbar spine while you work toward straightening your legs.
If your front knee tends to hyperextend, or you have discomfort in the front of your ankle …
Try placing a thinly rolled blanket (about 3–4 inches in diameter) under the ball of your front foot and lift your toes. Microbend your front knee as you push your instep into the blanket to fire up your calf muscles. When the calf fires, it prevents the top of the shin from popping backward, or creating hyperextension. Hold the top of the shin forward as you slowly straighten the leg.
See alsoLoosen Up Your Calves
Embrace Your Imperfections
Parsvottanasana and the poses on the following pages help you move mindfully into Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose), named after the sage Astavakra. In utero, this unborn genius heard his father make several mistakes while reciting sacred scriptures, and laughed. His father heard him and cursed the boy to be born crooked in eight places. Astavakra had to learn how to live with these obstacles, like many of the Hindu deities. For example, Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva, has a bent standing leg, and Ganesha has a bent elephant trunk. These contortions serve to demonstrate that we are all flawed or “crooked” (vakrokti) in some way. However, our greatness and spiritual wisdom shine through no matter our inevitable shortcomings. Arm balances like Astavakrasana can push you to the brink of your capabilities, so be prepared to embrace your imperfections and enjoy the ride!