Some poses seem like they’re simple but in actual fact there is a lot going on. Parsvokonasana, extended lateral pose, is one of them. It is a valuable hip opener, leg and core strengthening, and side of the body lengthener.
As a standing pose it is grounding and good for the root chakra. It helps us feel safe and connected to the earth.
The front (bent) leg and foot:
The toes point towards the front of the mat and the knee tracks the toes. Activate the outer front leg and hip by pushing the leg against the arm a little, this makes sure the knee doesn’t drop to the inside. That would create extra load on the knee. Making sure the ankle is further forward than the knee will also relieve any undue pressure on the knee joint by reducing excessive flexion (bend).
We may be able to get the front thigh parallel to the ground, or maybe not, it’s a guide to sink into the hip a little more. Go as deep as you can, and after a breath or two, move a little deeper.
Resistance to bending into the front knee comes when the quads start to burn. Alleviate this by adding an outward rotation force through the front foot (without actually moving it), activating the Glutes.
The back (long) leg and foot:
Activating the back leg by pressing the pinky toe edge into the mat will also alleviate the quad burn of the front leg. Many of us focus so much on the forward reach and bend that we bring all the body weight with that attention. Send some of the weight back into that long leg and foot, stay connected.
The back leg is actually super important too for the full benefits of the pose. If the arches of the feet are dropped or we’re just tight through the outside of the foot, keeping the outer edge of the foot on the ground will be a challenge. In my opinion, it is better to keep the pinky toe edge of the back foot firmly grounded, even if it means less depth in the front knee bend. Pressing the edge of the back foot engages the whole side line of the body, the Lateral Myofascial Line. This line runs the Gall Bladder meridian, helping us to open our creativity and courage. It also keeps the core switched on to help support the upper body.
The Top Hand:
The hand actively reaches forward with the armpit rolling towards the face, keeping the scapula and shoulder stable. The reach of the arm lengthens the waist, moving the ribs away from the hip but without flaring the ribs and losing core connection.
We aim for a long spine rather than a side bend, although this will depend on your proportion of body to leg length, as well as hip structure. If you need a block under the bottom hand to keep the spine long, use it. You do want that hand resting on the something solid as you leverage the opening through the chest from that hand.
With the Glutes on the front leg activated and the rotation of the top shoulder you engage the Posterior Oblique Functional Line. When this line is strong and open our walking and running mechanics can improve and require less energy and effort.
The Drishti is ideally the top hand, engaging the spiral line a little and lifting the energy, if your neck is unhappy with this, keep the neck straight or gaze the floor. Turning the gaze up is good to keep the muscles in the front of the neck active though, and in our laptop and phone dominated world they tend to switch off. We can avoid ‘Text Neck’ by reminding these muscles to work.
Parsvokonasana is a beautiful pose to help warm up the hips, the whole body really. Important to help us release any stored anger and connect to our initiative.