Practice: Parighasana / ‘Gate Pose’

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Parigha = An iron bar used for locking a gate                   Asana = Posture

The word expansion is used a lot in Yoga practice, and it can really mean a lot of different things to each of us…. When we think about expanding the body – this might mean opening up all the habitually ‘tight’ places within us, lengthening our muscles, and generally feeling a little easier and more comfortable in our skin. In terms of expanding the mind, this could mean going beyond our own self-limiting beliefs and expanding our mind to look towards our endless potential. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed as I teach, is that we’re often scared to go beyond our comfort zones if it means possibly risking making a ‘mistake’ or looking stupid in front of others….

The fact is, we don’t come to a yoga class to ‘get things right’, or to stay within the confines of our every-day minds…. We come to class to feel that there’s something much more to us than our own small world, our worries and concerns. And when it comes to making mistakes, wobbling around and risking looking ‘stupid’? We’re all in it together, and we all know how it feels to lose your balance and fall out of that posture in class!

Expansion generally means growing bigger, moving boundaries, and opening things up…. In this context, I’m talking about moving the boundaries we set for ourselves – the ‘I can’t’ thoughts that linger in our minds – and instead opening up the mind so we’re able to experience and feel more in each moment.

Although not a hugely challenging asana, parighasana or ‘gate pose’ is a great introduction to physically expanding the body and is great preparation for postures such as utthita parsvakonasana (extended side angle) and trikonasana (triangle). Parighasana especially helps to open up the intercostal muscles which surround the lungs and ribs and aid in the ability to take full, deep breaths, and also the serratus anterior – the muscles we particularly engage each time we practice chatturanga.

As I mentioned in last week’s post about twists, we know how connected our bodies and minds are, so creating this sense of space and expansion in the body can lead to a feeling of opening up the mind too. Especially if we’ve had a lot on our minds, this expansion can be a welcome relief from our often narrowed minds and busy thoughts….

To prepare the body for parighasana:

In order to find a deeper opening in ‘gate pose’, move through your surya namaskar A (sun salutation A) to get the blood flowing, and then make your way in to adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog).

In your downward facing dog, focus on lengthening the sides of the body by actively pressing the hands into the earth, and reaching your hips up and back. If movement is a big part of your practice, then add a gentle swaying movement into the hips as you lengthen each side of the body.

From downward facing dog, move in to virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) and open the side of the body again with reverse warrior. Stay here for 5 breaths, using your inhale to expand the intercostal muscles and serratus anterior.

After 5 breaths, move back into virabhadrasana 2, and then back into downward facing dog before practicing on the other side.

After practicing this to both sides of the body, finish in downward facing dog, and then bring your knees down to the floor to come to kneeling position.

How To:

  • From a kneeling position, bring your [right] leg out to the side, and straighten through the leg, keeping the sole of the foot on the floor. There are a few variations of this posture; I like to practice it with the toes pointing forwards, but if it’s comfortable for your ankle, the toes could face out to the right.
  • As you inhale, reach the arms up along side the ears and lengthen the sides of the body. Keeping the shoulders away from the ears, think about lengthening the space between the hip and the armpit. As we age, gravity pulls the ribcage down towards the hips – this, coupled with the fact that our spine loses hydration – as does our fascia (basically, we ‘dry out’… nice) – is the reason why we appear shorter the older we get. Maintaining space and length in the body helps us counteract the effects of gravity, and keeps our circulation healthy and the body hydrated.
  • As you exhale, slide the [right] hand down the [right] leg and reach the [left] arm up and over the ear.
  • Again, find length from the hip through to the armpit, and continue that sense of length as your reach right out of your fingertips. Use the breath to open up even more by focussing your inhale towards the side body.
  • Ensure your [right] hand is only lightly touching the [right] leg, so you don’t put too much pressure on the knee, and so you’re also relying on your core strength to hold you here instead of the arm.
  • Stay here for 5-10 breaths, focussing on how your breath plays the biggest part in finding that expansion.
  • When you’re ready to transition out, inhale as you draw yourself upright again, and bring the [right] leg back in.
  • In your kneeling position, lower the hips down to sit on your heels, and rest in balasana (child’s pose) with the arms along side the body as your counterpose.

Add parighasana to your practice this week to expand the body, breath and mind!

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