Too often ego takes over our yoga practice, we go further in a pose that we need to, we push despite injury, we compare ourselves to the yogi next to us, or we forget what really matters. Reality is clouded by the filter of ego. This is why we hear so many yoga teachers saying, “Leave your ego outside the studio”, or some variation on that theme. In order for our practice to be authentic and true to our best self, ego can have no part.
I’d like to amend that adage with a reminder, something like, “check your ego at the door, you don’t need to touch the floor.” There are several poses where yogis feel the magnetic pull to the floor. There is an overwhelming need to have contact with the floor to feel like we are really finding the pose. This week’s PowerPose, Pārśvottānāsana or Intense Side Stretch seems to be one of the biggest offenders. Getting our hands to the floor feeds our ego of false accomplishment. The truth of the matter is that we can “accomplish” and find great work in this pose and not come anywhere close to the floor. We just need to leave our ego and tune in to what is happening as we find the shape and our breath.
This pose features an intense lengthening of the torso through the side bodies, it’s also a major hamstring stretch. The grounding of the feet, squaring of the hips, and reach of the tail can challenge even the most limber yogi. Moving mindfully into this posture, check in with the “conversation” that happens with the hamstrings, and make sure it doesn’t turn into a shouting match!
Try these stages of Pārśvottānāsana, with an ego-free attitude.
Option 1 – Hands to Hips. Stand with the feet at hip distance and the toes pointing forward. Step the Left foot back about 3 feet, the Left toes can point slightly away from the midline of the body. Make sure both feet are rooted. Gently pull the Right hip back, so the hips are parallel with the front of the mat. Gently hug the inner thighs. Lift the side bodies long, creating as much space as possible from the hips to the armpits. Keep the shoulders soft and the blades moving down the back. Reach through the crown of the head. Take the hands to the hips and hinge forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the hamstring. Keep reaching the torso long. Repeat on the other side.
Option 2 – Heart Parallel. Maintaining the length of the torso, hinge further forward, taking the hands to the front shin or block. Use the leverage of the shin or blocks to pull the heart further forward. Continue to hug the front hip back in space. Reach and square the sits bones behind you. Tone the belly toward the spine. Try to find equal distribution of work between the front and back feet.
Option 3 – Increase Fold. As the hamstrings allow, increase the fold to draw the heart closer to the shin. Take the gaze to the big toe. Check to see that the hips remain level as you increase the fold. A great way to self-adjust is to find the pose facing the mirror. When you can fold far enough where you can see your hips in the mirror, you can see the adjustments needed to level them. Imagine that you could place a tray of glasses across your hips and they could remain steady and undisturbed regardless of how far you fold. Soften the elbows, keeping the heart open as you fold. Eventually, you may even be able to take the hands to the floor, but pay more attention to what is going on with the torso, hips, and hamstrings.
Option 4 – Reverse Anjali Mudra. Start from the upright position. Take the hands behind the back in reverse prayer, palms together with the pinky fingers against the back. If this is not available, hold forearms or clasp hands. Lift through the torso and tone the belly to the spine. With the hands behind back it’s easy to splay the ribs and allow the belly to protrude. Hinge at the hips to fold. Do not sacrifice the length through the side bodies or the openness of the heart in exchange for the degree of fold.
If we have the opportunity to practice this pose together, you’ll probably hear me say, “there are about a million ways to make this pose really hard without touching the floor”. So, check the ego at the door, you don’t need to touch the floor, and find a practice that is authentic for you.
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