Utthita = Extended Parsva = Side Kona = Angle Asana = Posture
Yoga postures are a lot more than they appear to be on the outside. To anyone looking into a yoga class of people moving from strange shape to even stranger shape, it may seem absurd as to why we would choose this practice. On the inside of these ‘shapes’ though, there’s a whole other world going on. What may seem ‘still’ and ‘rigid’ on the outside at times, can house a vast array of subtle sensations, like the expansion and contraction of the breath, the way our joints and muscles respond to what we ask them to do, the transformation of a chattering, busy mind into a quieter and more serene state of being…. This is all available to us, if we practice with this intention in mind. Often we’ll turn up to class, move, breathe and instantly forget about all of this when we leave the room afterwards. We check our phones, start planning whatever is it we’re doing next, and just like that, we’re back to the busy mind, that old nagging back pain, and the feeling of being totally disconnected from our Self again.
When we move deeper into a yoga practice, this doesn’t necessarily mean putting ourselves in to more and more ‘advanced’ postures, or moving towards more ‘impressive’ looking asanas that show our progress on the outside…. No, it’s about actually moving deeper towards our Self. The more subtle aspects of the practice, like the breath and the sensations of our inner body as we move and flow and find stillness on the mat can help us quieten the mind far more effectively than concentrating on the outward appearance of a posture – and it’s this practice that can introduce us to not just a whole new way of moving, but a whole new way of knowing who we are when we move past the chatter of the mind.
Utthita Parsvakonasana is a posture you’ll come across in many flow-style classes, and is used as a part of Shiva Rea’s ‘Dancing Warrior’ sequence. From the outside, it looks simple enough, but if we practice with the intention of looking deeper into ourselves and finding movement within the stillness of the ‘shape’, the posture becomes about a thousand times more powerful and vibrant. The asana becomes not just about finding the ‘right’ alignment, but creating space in the body for energy, breath or ‘prana’ to make its way into every cell.
This might all sound crazy, but I can guarantee it has the ability to transform your practice over time….
To prepare the body for Utthita Parsvakonasana:
As always, move through your Surya Namaskar A and B, making sure to fully connect to and move with the breath, instead of adding it in as an afterthought. It really is the ability to come back to the breath than transforms us a lot more than anything else in the practice.
From there you’re almost ready. Come into a downward facing dog and step the [right] foot forwards and make your way into a Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) position….
There are many variations of how people will teach a posture of course – that’s why each teacher has something unique to offer – but this is how I’m teaching Utthita Parsvakonasana right now….
- From your Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2), spread the toes and ground evenly through both feet so that you have a stable foundation, and take an inhale as you reach through both arms and out of the fingertips to create a little space in the upper body.
- As you exhale, bend the front arm [the right arm] and take the forearm to rest lightly on the front thigh. (Make sure you’re never just collapsing into a posture, the arm is indeed on the thigh, but you’re using your core strength to be here, not the strength of the arm, and there’s still plenty of space between the shoulders and the ears).
- As you inhale, reach the other arm up, and take it across so the arm is along side the ear, again reaching through the fingertips and maintaining length through both sides of the body.
- Because our bodies are completely interconnected via tissue and fascia, which wraps around our muscles and organs (for a little bit more info on fascia, click here), there’s a lot more than just the arm lifting up going on here….
- As you lift the arm, there’s a whole line of energy, and literally a line of connective tissue running from the outer edge of the back foot, through to the fingertips. You might be able to feel this movement along the side of the body, possibly all the way to the hip and maybe even down the outer leg. If you’re not feeling it, remember this doesn’t mean you’re ‘doing it wrong’.
- This is where the breath comes in. Being in one fixed position isn’t necessarily best for our bodies or our minds, so see if you can find a little movement here by using the breath, a sense of expanding, contracting and pulsating with the inhalation and exhalation, and easing in and out of the posture so the muscles engage and release. Don’t adhere to any specific movements, whatever helps you to get into you is going to work. It can be challenging to find movement – however big or small – if we’re used to concentrating on alignment and how things look outwardly. Of course, it’s important to keep ourselves safe and to understand the structure of the posture we’re working with, but after we’ve been practicing for a while and we know what we’re doing, maybe we should question why we care so much about ‘getting it right’.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or for however long feels good to you.
- To transition out, re-ground through the feet and take an inhale to draw yourself back up to Virabhadrasana 2. Place the hands either side of the front foot, and step back to downward facing dog before moving on to the other side.
- If you feel the need to counterpose Utthita Parsvakonasana, come into Tadasana (mountain pose), and slowly fold forwards into Uttanasana, allowing the knees to slightly bend, and the spine to remain long.
Try bringing this awareness of subtle movement into your practice, and see how it stills the mind and creates a little more space and fluidity within the body.