If you’ve ever practiced Virabhadrasana II, you know the starting position for Extended Side Angle. The feet are aligned on a tightrope, with the heel of the front foot in a straight line to the instep of the back foot (which is set at a forty-five degree angle.) The hips face perpendicular to the legs, a position known as “open hip.” The front leg is bent, optimally enough so that the thigh is parallel to the floor. The arms are extended over the legs, with the shoulders grounded down into their sockets.
From here, keep everything below the waist steady. Extend the upper body forward and drop the bottom arm onto the thigh; if you like, that arm can drop down alongside the shin, with the hand on the floor. Bring the top hand to the ribcage; you can then either stay here or swing that arm up so that it grazes your ears. On an inhale, open your chest by twisting your torso so that your elbow points in the direction of the sky. Once in the pose, hold it for a few counts. To come out of the pose, return to Warrior II.
Because this is a lateral move, you’ll need to practice on each side of the body. Keep in mind that the pose will feel different the second time around, because you are stretching a different side. Make sure that the sensation is not painful, and that you are not pushing past your own personal edge.
If you have trouble getting the different sets of alignment correct, try practicing against a wall. This will feel difficult at first, particularly if your torso isn’t used to the twist that occurs when moving in and out of this pose. If you come away from the wall, do not force yourself into position. Learning correct alignment may take some time.
To further challenge yourself, hold the final pose for a few counts before lifting the bottom hand. Position yourself so that it feels like you are holding the world’s largest beach ball between your palms. This will bring your core muscles into play, and can be very taxing. This is a great way to measure progress in developing core strength.
Beyond the stretch to the side of the body, Utthita Parsvakonasana is useful in strengthening the legs, particularly if practiced in tandem with other lateral moves. When choosing asanas for home practice, remember to cluster the open hip poses together, either before or after the cluster of closed hip poses. Moving the hips from open to close can cause wear and tear on the joint, which can lead to arthritis or other trouble down the road.
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