Today’s pose is Extended Side Angle or Utthita Parsvakonasana. One of the most challenging aspects of this pose is that it requires a lot of strength from the obliques…you know…your sides. If you aren’t feeling anything in the sides of the abdomen in this pose, you may be making some common mistakes.
Here, I am using a block to modify the pose. Ideally, you want the trunk, thighs, and shoulders to be on one plane. Many students want to get their hand down on the floor before they are ready, and it will cause the hips to push backward and the torso to fold in between the legs. You can notice here that is starting to happen a bit with me. So, I should actually bring the bottom hand higher by flipping the block vertically or resting my forearm on the thigh. Also, my top shoulder looks a bit uncomfortable so it’s best to move it into a more vertical position.
This picture is in case you need a visual for what not to do. This gal is probably tired from all those Sun Salutations, but she isn’t doing her body any favors. She’s sagging into the bottom shoulder. Her core isn’t engaged, and her top hand is flopping about like a wet noodle. In Side Angle, your sides are holding your upper body, not your arms. Even if you are using a block, you want the bottom hand to gently rest instead of supporting all of your weight. Here, she’s leaning into her joints which will probably be painful later. These are common mistakes that are made when we get tired in class. To me the body feels heavier, and it’s harder to breathe doing Side Angle in this way. So, putting forth effort here is actually physically easier than just hanging out
Ah! This looks a bit more comfortable. As you can see, my hips, thighs, and upper body are in one plane. I am able to open that top shoulder so looking upward is more comfortable. Also, I can gently rest my forearm on my thigh. I’m not leaning into my shoulder. My core is sturdy and keeping me upright.
This pose had me thinking of other shortcuts we take. I remember when I was a kid my mom would give chores for my brothers and me to do before she came home from work. One of my dreaded tasks was vacuuming the living room once a week. I loathed vacuuming especially since it required me to lug around this dinosaur Electrolux monstrosity of a cleaning machine. So, my youthful brain thought up a genius plan. I was going to just move the vacuum to make the tracks in the carpet without turning the machine on so it would look like I did my chore. You probably can see the fault in this logic. The amount of effort used to move that old Electrolux to make it look like I vacuumed was the same about required to actually, you know…vacuum. The mind can trick us at times. We think we can’t handle something, and we spend all this time ruminating, scheming, and planning how to get out of it. Doing the actual task would have been just one uncomfortable moment; whereas the avoidance of the task can create an infinite string of uncomfortable stressful moments. As a kid, even having this tiny lie made me anxious. Not only was there a constant fear of being found out, but I had to constantly scan the floor and pick up crumbs by hand so Mom wouldn’t know I didn’t vacuum.
Avoiding shortcuts can be a great practice in developing discipline. Instead of engaging with the mind to create a scheme of how to get out of this present moment, we breathe, face it head on, and we persevere. Avoidance behavior just reinforces those negative beliefs about ourselves: you can’t handle it, you aren’t strong enough, this is too hard. Taking care of the task in front of you shifts that negative dialogue from, “I can’t,” into “I just did.”