Pose of the Month: Utthita Parsvakonasana
The practice of Utthita Parsvakonasana A and its variations is pretty common in today’s asana classes. It is a powerful standing pose that can encourage us to move deeply into stretch while requiring us to utilize a good deal of strength and grounding. It flows well in the context of a typical Vinyasa class, and it can most definitely make you sweat. It can be modified to address the needs of a beginner and also practiced in a way that can appeal to the most advanced practitioner. Because of its frequency in asana class, Extended Side Angle is often overlooked an opportunity to peel away the layers of our effort and find our true self at the center of the work. But, if we slow down and spend some time exploring it, we may find that it reveals a great deal about our willingness and ability to live in and from our heart.
By approaching Utthita Parsvakonasana A from our heart, we can find the strength to be our most authentic Self, a courageous and vulnerable act. Approaching our asanas and our lives with clear understanding despite the ideas or objectives we hold about the achievement is evidence of living authentically. That means that we honor our body’s ability to deepen or open in this posture, and we sit within the discomfort of possibly not achieving our “goal.” Living and practicing this way, regardless of the outcome, is an expression of our vulnerability. To allow yourself to open fully, you have to lean into the spaces that may initially feel uncomfortable or sometimes back off of the intensity to allow yourself to feel instead of force.
Utthita Parsvakonasana A is a basic asymmetrical standing pose. The spine is working toward axial extension with the front knee and hip in deep flexion. The deeper the flexion in the front hip, the closer we can come to axial extension in the spine. When our deep hip flexors are tight or week, and we back out of the depth in our leg, our spine exhibits slight lateral flexion. The muscles of the hamstrings work hard to resist the weight of the torso extending over the front leg, and lengthen to extend the back leg. There are multiple arm variations, all of which require some basic shoulder mobility. The more we can retract and depress the scapula in this pose the more thoracic rotation we can achieve. The Serratus Anterior can benefit from this rotation, receiving a deep stretch on the side of the body farthest from the bent front leg. When the shoulders are tight, the tendency is to create hip flexion in the back, extended leg to compensate for the lack of shoulder mobility. With a clear understanding of our ability, though, we can create less compensatory responses, and find our most open pose without falling into misalignment.
With Utthita Parsvakonasana A, many are inclined to push beyond what is appropriate or aligned with our true fullest expression, i.e. we bend too deeply in our hip or knee, we overstretch through the shoulders or chest, we bind when our bodies and minds tell us not too, all to “achieve” an idea of what we think this pose should look like or feel like. Or, we will back way off our ability and barely touch the intensity that the asana has to offer in ways like not bending at all in knee or hip, or instead of rotating the spine and turning the chest toward the sky, we will collapse the chest toward the floor.
The first step in approaching Utthita Parsvakonasana A and all of its variations with courage and vulnerability is to determine what experience of the pose best supports an authentic expression for you. Our own individual expression of this very common asana, might be drastically different from the person on the mat next to us or even from the picture that we hold in our mind. Are we prepared to address our individual needs and experiences even if it means that we will look or feel differently? Can we be bold enough to stand in our own experience, even if it is uncomfortable in order to fully experience ourselves through the medium of this asana?
Utthita Parsvakonasana A is an opportunity to know ourselves more fully, and requires only that we be willing to try. We may find in the midst of our experience that we have the strength and the courage to be fully exposed. That though our expression of this asana (or any other) may not align with our idea of perfection, it can instead allow us to honor and celebrate that which is perfectly unique about us. The process isn’t always a comfortable one, but the willingness to step into the discomfort of not meeting our intended “goal,” is necessary for us to be fully and completely ourselves.