One of my favorite ways to add more challenge and creativity to my practice, as well as to avoid becoming stagnant, is through discovering new variations of yoga poses. From basic poses like triangle pose and downward facing dog to more advanced poses such as crow and headstand, there are always ways to stretch further, twist deeper, hold longer and grow stronger. That's the beauty of yoga — there's always something new to learn.
So in an effort to help us all pump up our practice, I'll be writing a series of articles featuring variations of yoga poses — from beginner to intermediate and even a few advanced. Don't worry though, as always, I'll ease you into these new poses nice and slow. Remember, yoga is a practice, not a final exam. You can re-take a class, re-read an article, and re-try a pose as many times as you need — that's actually encouraged! After all, no harm comes from failing, it only means that you tried.
Kick starting this series is... (drum roll please)... extended side angle pose! Otherwise known as Utthita Parsvakonasana (in fancy yoga lingo). The benefits of this pose are too many to count, but for starters, it strengthens and stretches the legs, knees and ankles; stretches the groins, spine, waist, chest, lungs and shoulders; stimulates abdominal organs; and increases stamina. Pretty impressive, right? Another great tidbit about extended side angle pose is that it can be performed with a block to help you strengthen and lengthen even deeper.
Starting from Warrior II pose, bring your front forearm to gently rest along the top of your front thigh, allowing it to press into your leg as you turn your chest to lift towards the sky, creating space between your supporting shoulder and head. Pushing through your back foot so that all five toes are pressing evenly into the ground, keep the back leg extended straight while the front knee stays bent.
From step 1, take this pose for a deeper stretch by reaching your front hand down towards the ground, while you continue to reach your back arm up and overhead. In this variation, the front hand can either come to the inside of the front foot, allowing the shoulder to press firmly into the knee, or bring the arm to the outside of the front foot to make the stretch a little less intense.
From step 2, make sure your front hand is on the inside of the front leg. Bending your extended arm at the elbow, reach your hand back behind you and onto your front thigh, allowing it to rest here for a half bind.
To go for the full bind, take your front arm and reach it through your legs, grabbing a hold of your back hand. Extend through the arms and roll your top shoulder back and away from your head, allowing your chest to open and turning your gaze towards the sky.
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