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Yoga for Beginners

Modify + Embrace Imperfections in Intense Side Stretch

Modify Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana) if needed 
to find safe alignment for your body.

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Modify Parsvottanasana if needed to find safe alignment for your body.

PREVIOUS STEP IN YOGAPEDIA 6 Steps to Master Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana) 
NEXT STEP IN YOGAPEDIA 3 Prep Poses for Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana) 

If you’re unable to keep both legs straight with your fingers on the floor …

Amy Ippoliti, tight hamstrings, intense side stretch, parsvottonasana

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.

See alsoFlow + Tips to Strengthen Thighs and Hamstrings

If you are still unable to straighten your legs with your hands on blocks, or simply want to move into the pose gradually …

Amy Ippoliti, wall, intense side stretch pose, parsvottonasana

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.

See alsoSet All Ego Aside in This Seated Forward Bend

If your front knee tends to hyperextend, or you have discomfort in the front of your ankle …

Amy Ippoliti, blanket, intense side stretch pose, parsvottonasana

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

intense side stretch pose, Amy Ippoliti, parsvottonasana

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!

See alsoBetween the Lines: Parsvottanasana

Want to practice or study with Amy Ippoliti in person? Join her at Yoga Journal LIVE New York, April 19-22, 2018—YJ’s big event of the year. We’ve lowered prices, developed intensives for yoga teachers, and curated popular educational tracks: Anatomy, Alignment, & Sequencing; Health & Wellness; and Philosophy & Mindfulness. See what else is new and sign up now.