by Steph Creaturo
Parsvottonasana, or intense side stretch, is an amazing pose for runners. It’s a fantastic hamstring and calf stretch, is great for hip stability, and our awareness of our midline is illuminated because we hug the legs so strongly to it while in the pose (lest we tip over!) So, yes, for some of us it is a bit of a balance challenge as well.
Now, my hamstrings – along with my calves – are pretty darned tight these days, which makes the forward bend – you know, the main action in the pose – tough. I’m exploring a few different ways to do the pose so I can stretch the back of my leg without straining my hamstrings, low back, or hips.
Take a look at the variations that I’m currently practicing that feel pretty good and work with my tight hamstrings. As you know, I love me some props in a pose, but you don’t need props beyond a wall or chair to switch it up.
1. Use a wall or chair for your hands
Leverage your own body weight to lengthen the hips backward and the chest forward in space. My body loves resistance work. The resistance of pressing my hands into a wall prevents any dunking into my low back and keeps my hips level with each other.
2. Strap your front thigh
The strap guides my front thigh bone backwards in space, which makes my pelvis more stable. The strap also awakens my back foot. By pressing the back heel into the strap, I can anchor my whole back leg.
Who knew such a small body part – the outer slip of the back heel – could provide such grounding! An added bonus – the pressure of the strap on the front leg also release my hip flexors just a tad, enough to get some length in that hamstring.
And, like you can see in the above photo, sometimes I do both things! As I said, I like props.
3. Pad your back heel
Tightness in the calf to ankle corridor of the back leg can be pesky in this pose – because of it, the back heel can be hard to anchor, and that thighbone shears forward, creating stress on the hamstring and low back. A bit of a lift – like a folded up mat or a blanket – brings the floor to your foot, thus creating stability in the back leg from the foundation.
No prop, or don’t feel like fussing with one? Try working the pose with your back heel elevated or pushing into a wall.
4. Front foot perched on a block
What a lovely variation for our friends who lock, or hyperextend, the knee beyond a healthy range of motion. It’s hard to jam the knee backwards in space when your foot is in this position. From there, the quads can engage.
This is also great if you roll to the outer edge of your feet in standing poses when the hips are square to the front edge of your mat. Press your big toe mound – aka the “control panel” of your legs in standing poses – into the block to prevent rolling to the outer leg. cues the body to organize the leg and thigh bones and joints.
What do you think? How does it feel in your body when we take a familiar pose and try it in new ways? And remember, not all variations work for all bodies, so try these and see what feels best for your body – let your pose work for your body at that moment in practice – always, always, always!