Extended Side Angle: 18 Versions and Beyond
A coworker who is a cocktail expert told me that apparently there’s a huge debate over how to prepare Bloody Mary correctly within the mixology community. There’s even a book just about that! It sounded kind of ridiculous yet painfully familiar because of how much it reminded me the yoga crowd and our ongoing debates about correct alignments and blah-blah-blah. And usually, the easier the Asana is, the more debates it provokes. For example, this one Parsvakonasana, or Extended Side Angle.
A very basic Asana, taught in probably 98% of yoga classes. But, there’s at least 3 ways to align the feet, 2 ways to place the bottom arm, 3 ways to place the top arm - this is what, 18 permutations? And I’m not talking variations of this pose (like with the hands in a bind) or modifications for different body types, this adds a whole new level of complexity.
These 18 permutations (and there’s probably more) are just the discrepancies based on the style of yoga and/or teacher’s personal preferences. So, I can imagine the confusion that people that are newer to Yoga have because I was in their shoes once.
So, if you’re confused, here is how I do this pose within my Ashtanga practice. Step with you right foot 5 ft wide, pivot on your heel and align the right foot with the long side of the mat. The other foot is aligned heel to heel, and is placed at an angle. Bend the right knee 90 degrees (knee over the foot), thighs parallel to the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in your groin and inner thigh.
Place your right hand outside of the right foot, right in parallel with it. Press the palm into the mat, press the knuckles and heel of the palm down.
What I see a lot of people doing is placing the arm outside, but instead of coming onto a firmly grounded palm, they would come onto the finger tips in all weird shapes and forms. Please don’t do that! And not because there’s some “yoga rules” that prescribe this, but because you would do yourself a disservice.
First, this is an injury prone position – our fingers are not the largest bones of our bodies, and it takes a lot of time to train them to carry the weight in a right way.
Second, so many yoga poses, beginner and advanced, depend on the right position and pressure of the palm. Learn to do it correctly from the very beginning, because the neural patterns of your brains get created with every single movement. The more times you misplace your palm, the stronger of a pattern you develop. I saw this bad “palm” habit coming to haunt people in Bakasana (Crane / Crow) or even Handstands.
Instead, use a block and place your palm on it. If you have a wrist injury, come to your fist.
Oftentimes, in the Vinyasa classes, the hand is placed on the inside, in front of the foot. From my experience, this version of the alignment is a little bit gentler. If the hand is outside, your knee should be pressing into the shoulder, otherwise, the shoulder should be pressing into the knee for deeper stretching.
Finally, extend the angle by lifting the left arm up and over your head. Imagine one straight line from the outer edge of the left foot and up until the left fingertips.
These are my recommendations for when you’re practicing at home. If you’re doing yoga in a studio, I’d suggest to first listen to the teacher. Even if you think you know how to do the Asana, just give it a try and see how the other alignment feels on your body. I think this is also some basic yoga class manners and a way to show your respect to the teacher’s efforts. If there’s no specific instructions, then pick the alignment that feels best on your body (within the reasonable limits of the Asana, though).