The alignment of Intense Side Stretch Pose or Parsvottanasana is exact.
In class, I always have to remind myself to square my hips, to drop my shoulder down, to lengthen my spine, to root my feet and firm my thighs—but somewhere along the way, I find the pose precisely and perfectly in my body, and it feels just right.
Practicing this pose invites a beautiful sense of balance between surrendering into the depth of the forward fold while remaining strong and grounded through the legs and feet. When we are in alignment, our practice (as well as our life) begins to feel so much easier.
Benefits of Intense Side Stretch Pose
Intense Side Stretch Pose creates a deep stretch along the hamstrings, and helps to open up the hips, spine, shoulders, and wrists. The effects of this pose can be particularly beneficial for runners to stretch out tight calves and hamstrings before or after a big race.
The pose also strengthens the legs, improves balance, and stimulates the abdominal organs, which can assist with digestion.
Intense Side Stretch Pose Step-By-Step
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), then take a big step back with your right foot and turn the toes of your right foot out and the heel in slightly, lining the front and back heels up with one another. The feet should be approximately 3 to 4 feet apart, depending on the length of the legs, and the back foot at about a 60-degree angle.
- Take your hands onto your hips and find the action of squaring both hips forward toward the front edge of your mat, drawing the left hip back and the right hip forward, and keep both legs straight and strong.
- Inhale to find length along your spine, and either take your hands into reverse prayer (bringing the palms to touch behind the back), or hold on to opposite elbows behind you. If your hands are in reverse prayer, draw your shoulders and elbows back and lift the chest.
- On your next exhale, begin to fold your torso over your front leg, hinging from the hip, as opposed to the waist, to keep the spine long.
- In your fold, press the thighs back and root down evenly through the soles of both feet. Drop the right shoulder down slightly to keep the shoulders level, and use your breath to help guide your chest closer toward your upper thigh.
- Remain in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths, then inhale to press actively through the feet and bring the torso back upright. Repeat on the other side whenever you feel ready.
- While the classic expression of the pose is practiced with heel-to-heel alignment, the right foot can be taken to the right slightly, to create a more stable foundation if heel-to-heel feels too intense for your body.
- Taking the hands into reverse prayer requires a considerable amount of openness in the shoulders and the wrists. A less challenging variation is to simply lower the fingertips down to either side of the front foot, either on the mat or on blocks.