Benefits of the pose:
Parsvottanasana is a beautifully complex pose. A stretching pose (the hamstrings, hips and back) and a strengthener (the legs; hamstrings and quadriceps; hips and back).
As a standing forward bend, we are not only stretching but balancing. It it necessary to engage muscles and lift up, while folding forward, in order to feel the stretch.
Getting into the pose:
Begin in Tadasana with a block on either side of your feet. Step your left foot back about three feet (give or take a few inches depending on the length of your legs – longer legs means a longer stance).
While the front foot is parallel to the long side of your mat (your toes should be extended forward) your back foot will be at a slight angle, toes pointing to toward the top corner of your mat. This will allow for more stability and balance when folding forward.
You should still be able to square your hips toward the front edge of your mat and if the hip of the back leg is not able to wrap forward. Shorten your stance so it can.
Traditional arm placement is Anjalimudra (behind the back), but in this case we will place our hands on our hips. Draw the elbows back in space to allow the shoulder blades to hug into the body towards the back ribs. This will help keep the chest open.
Sending both heels down into the floor and keeping the legs straight (but not locked!) at the knee-joint, begin to hinge forward at the hip creases, extending the torso forward in space.
Back Leg: As your body moves forward, really work to send the heel of the back leg heel back in space as if you were pushing into a wall with the outer edge of that heel.
Front Leg: Press down into the ‘big toe mound’ of the front foot to draw the shin toward the midline. As you do this, draw a line from your inner knee towards the outer hip, hugging the greater trochanter of the femur in and back. You will have just created a diagonal line from the big toe mound to the outer hip.
Keep the quadriceps engaged and when you’ve reached your hamstring and hip limit, place the hands on the blocks or floor.
Once you’re in the pose:
Try not to hunch the upper back.
A nice option to help keep length in the spine (between each vertebrae) is to walk the hands, on blocks, forward of the front foot. This will also remind the body to continue to press the back in space with the back heel and front leg hip, drawing both legs into the midline.
To come out of this position, you must continue to send the back heel back and hug to the midline with both legs. Draw the front body of the torso in towards the back body of the torso and use an inhale to help you stand upright. Engaging in these actions will help keep the lower back safe.
Step the back foot forward and repeat on the other side!