Yoga Sequences

9 Side-Stretching Poses to Help You Stay Open to Possibility

Working with the side body can be a powerful way to foster trust that anything is possible. Here’s a practice for the next time you’re craving limitless potential.

Life is full of possibilities in terms of what we can become, what we can achieve, and who we are meant to be. But for most of us, our eyes and minds have been trained to look for a certain set of expected realities that often keep us closed to everything that is just at the edge of our consciousness.

The antidote? We have to ask that our hearts, minds, and eyes stay open to possibilities which we were previously unable to see. We have to remember, as Krishna reminds Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita time and again, that we each contain every possibility of existence inside of ourselves. That means there is no reason that we should not be able see what we were previously blind to.

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Almost every Yoga teacher I know ends class by saying Namaste. While this term can roughly be translated as, “The highest in me bows to the highest in you,” there is also a prayer that is associated with this salutation which may help us in remembering to keep ourselves open to the possibilities that were previously unknown. It says, “I honor this place inside you in which the entire Universe dwells. It is a place of Peace, of Love, of Joy and of Truth. And, when you’re in that place in you, and I’m in that place in me, we are One.”

The entire Universe is limitless—there are no blinders, no closed doors, and all of those infinite possibilities reside deep down, inside of our own hearts. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re asking for. You just have to ask that your awareness be expanded to that which was previously unseen. I designed this sequence to help you do just that.

This Side-Opening Sequence Will Help You Stay Open to Possibility

Supine Twist

Supine Spinal Twist

Laying on your back, place the soles of your feet on the ground and extend your arms out like a letter “T.” Press your feet into the ground to lift your seat, then shift your hips 5-6 inches to the left. Draw your knees into your chest and let them fall to the left while you turn your head over the right shoulder. Stay here for 5-10 breaths. To switch sides, make sure to shift your hips 10-12 inches in the other direction, so that your spine stays in one unbroken line.

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Modified Vasisthasana into Parighasana

Gate Pose

From hands and knees, place your right hand in the centerline of your mat, a couple inches forward from your shoulder. Bring your right shin parallel with the front of your mat and step your left foot to the back of your mat like Warrior II, with your left foot parallel to the back edge of your mat and your left leg straight. Reach your left arm over your ear with your palm facing the ground and press your hips forward as you reach your left hand and your left foot in opposite directions. Keep the exact same alignment with your legs, but lift your torso up so your shoulders are over your hips. Place your left hand on your left thigh or outer calf and reach our right arm up and over your head, reaching for your left foot (like reverse warrior, but with your legs in modified side plank). Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Ardha Hanumanasana

Half Split Pose

Step your right foot forward and place your left knee on the mat. Keep your left knee where it is and pull your hips back over your knee, so your left hip is over your left knee and your right leg is straight with the toes of your right foot pointing toward the ceiling. Hinging from the hips, keep your spine as long as possible and reach your chest toward the top of your right foot. As you do this, keep a tiny bend in your right knee. Pressing your right heel into the ground, isometrically drag your right heel towards the back of the mat. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Anjaneyasana with a Side Stretch

Low Lunge, Side Bend

Step your right foot forward and place your left knee on the mat. Bring your shoulders over your hips and place your right hand on your right hip. Then, reach your left arm up and over toward the right side of the room. If you have lots of space in your side body, you may reach your right hand to the floor or a block, but make sure your right waist is not collapsed (imagine reaching your whole torso up and over a beach ball rather than just trying to get your hand to the ground). Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Side Plank

From Down Dog, come halfway forward to Plank Pose. Step your right hand to the center line of your mat and a couple inches forward from your shoulder. Roll onto the outer edge of your right foot and stack your feet with your left foot on top. Raise your left arm up to the ceiling, and then extend it forward over your left ear like you’re reaching toward the top of your mat. Press your right hand down and forward, and press your right hip away from the mat. Your body should be in the shape of a rainbow. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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High Lunge, variation

High Lunge

Step your right foot forward and bring your hands to your waist. Bend your left knee a couple inches and pull your front hip points up toward your belly button so your tailbone lengthens toward the ground. From here, draw your front ribs together and towards the back of your shirt. Keep this alignment and straighten your back knee. Raise your left arm up toward the ceiling, then catch your left elbow with your right hand as your reach your left hand down your back, between your shoulder blades. Draw your front ribs back again and lift your chin away from your chest. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Utthita Parsvakonasana

Extended Side Angle Pose

Step your right foot forward and spin your left heel down as if you are setting up for Warrior II. Instead of lifting your shoulders over your hips, place your right hand on the ground inside the right foot and reach your left arm over your ear. Reach as far forward with your left hand as possible and press your left foot down and back as much as possible. If this is too much for your hips, place your right forearm on your right thigh to modify the pose. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Reverse Warrior

Reverse Warrior

You can practice this pose immediately after Side Angle Pose, or on its own starting from Down Dog or Tabletop position. With your right foot forward and your feet positioned for Warrior II, place your left hand above or below your knee on the left leg and reach your right arm up and over your right ear, as if you’re reaching toward the back of the room. As you reach your right arm back, keep bending your right knee over your right ankle, lifting the whole right side-body up and off of your right hip and thigh. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

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Seated Compass Pose

Compass Pose

From a seated position, cradle your right shin to your chest with your right foot in your left elbow crease and your right knee in your right elbow crease. Rock your shin back and forth a few times to open the hip joint a little more. Stop in the center and bring your right shoulder under your right thigh, as if you’re sliding your right leg onto your shoulder like a backpack or a purse. Once your right thigh is over your right shoulder, plant your right hand on the ground a few inches outside the line of your right hip. With your left hand, catch the outer edge of your right foot (pinky toe side of your foot), and on an inhalation, straighten your right leg as best as you can while you turn to look under your left shoulder. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides. (If your shoulders are tight, consider using a strap around your right foot rather than your left hand.)

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