Most of us don’t even realize just how tight the sides of our bodies are until we are asked to lengthen them in yoga class.
Think about it—you spend hours each day seated, bend forward to pick things up, lean back slightly to reach things overhead, and twist to grab something from behind—how often do you bend side to side in your daily life?
Even in yoga class, the number of hamstring, hip, and shoulder openers far outweigh the number of side body stretches; however, the tighter our side body is, the less freedom we have in our torso, restricting everything from our mobility to our ability take a fuller breath.
Below are my three favorite yoga poses for lengthening the side body—stretching from your hips through your armpits as you work with the breath to open the sides of your body.
1. Gate Pose
Gate Pose is a great overall awakening stretch that allows us gentle access to the side body, opening the spine, chest, and shoulders.
Kneeling on both knees, extend one leg out to the side. Inhale and reach your arms up, actively lengthening your spine; exhale and side bend over your straight leg, resting your bottom hand lightly on your shin.
Inhale and pull your top shoulder blade back, revolving your chest open; exhale and lengthen down through your tailbone as you reach your top arm over your ear.
Tip: You don’t have to side bend that far to get a deep stretch through the side body in this pose. Keep your kneeling leg straight up and down, perpendicular to the floor with the hip directly over the knee, and turn the top palm down to face the extended foot as you breath into the topside of your body.
2. Side Plank Variation
I love this juicy variation of Side Plank for accessing all of those little muscles between each rib.
Begin on your hands and knees in Table Top position. Extend your right leg back, turn it out and place the foot behind your left foot. Inhaling, extend your right arm up to the sky, turning your chest and hips open to the side; exhaling, lengthen your top arm over your top ear, palm facing down.
Tip: Press down into the outer edge of your back foot as you reach the top arm in the opposite direction, and bow the side ribs up toward the ceiling. Try to breathe into the spaces between each rib.
3. Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose
Although I love this pose, I’m always shocked by just how tight the sides of my body truly are whenever I practice it. Be careful not to hold your breath and to ease into lengthening both sides evenly.
Seated upright, with your right leg extended and the sole of your left foot against the right inner thigh, open your left knee further back, widening the angle and distance between your two knees. Inhale, lift and turn your torso to face your left knee; exhale, side bend to the right over your extended right leg.
Rest the back of your bottom hand on the floor inside your inner right thigh. Inhale, reach your left arm over your top ear for the right foot; exhale and pull your top shoulder black back, revolving your chest open to the ceiling.
Tip: Eventually, both hands will reach the extended foot, but for now, feel free to bring the top hand behind the base of your skull and rest back into your palm as you lean to the side. To really deepen the stretch, press down through your left sitting bone as you side bend over your right leg.
Which of these side body stretching poses is your favorite, and which one do you have trouble with the most? Share with me in the comments!
Image credit: Nir Livni Photography/Yogini: Meagan McCrary