So, you know what looks mad ugly from the front of a yoga class?  A room full individuals struggling to regain their balance after having taken their asanas to a depth that is beyond their manageability.

Thank You Yoga Journal:
Thank You Yoga Journal:

For example:  Let’s say you’re in Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose). As the name connotes, this asana can feel very intense, especially the more you release your head to the front of your leg.  We’ll assume we’re going for the traditional alignment as shown in the picture above.  In case it isn’t obvious, this woman is pretty comfortable in a position that most people would find challenging.

To gloss over the superficial anatomy quickly:

  • The hamstrings have to feel comfortable lengthening and supporting your weight as the upper body becomes more passive.
  • The back foot is externally rotated, so we’ll assume that the knee and hip are turning out as well (this is not always the case), so you must have a pretty good sense of where your pelvis is in relation to your legs.
  • If you touch the floor like she does then you can extend the arms in front of you with flat palms while depressing the shoulder blades away from the neck.

That’s enough, we could go on, but won’t.  Needless to say balance is challenging in this posture.  Most of us aren’t used to being inverted and balancing in an asymmetrical stance with extended legs.  So what teachers inevitably see are grimacing faces, lots of almost-falling over, and tensing up in inappropriate places like the neck, jaw and shoulders.  What is with the unnecessary drama!?  Seriously, you come to yoga class to relieve stress, not make more of it.

Here’s a way to avoid all the ish.  Find a grounded place and then move forward staying in contact with that grounded place.  Try the pose this way: 

  • Have the back leg and foot turned forward facing the same direction as the front foot.  This will add more challenge initially, because of the narrowed stance, but your hips will be facing forward and you won’t have to work as hard to keep track of your pelvic halves and sacrum..
  • Start from an upright position and begin to roll down into a forward bend over your front leg.
  • Keep the front leg slightly bent.
  • Keep the arms as PASSIVE AS POSSIBLE.  Resist the urge to catch yourself.
  • Don’t tense up the head, face or neck.

Setting up your Parsvottanasana this way can make a big difference in your experience.  Staying passive in the upper body and not using the arms might limit the range of motion you’re used to getting in terms of how far into the forward bend you go.  But not relying on your arms for support can keep you connected to your internal sense of balance and support.  It’s from that connection, a sense of being grounded, that you can then release and find depth without having to scramble to recover your balance.

Try it and tell us about your experience.  How do you handle the different sensory feedback?  How is it different than what you usually feel?  Can you apply this theory of choosing stability before depth to other asanas?  If you need ideas feel free to leave questions in the comments below.