How to Reap the Many Benefits of Intense Side Stretch (Pyramid) Pose: Parsvottanasana
Parsvottanasana, or Intense Side Stretch Pose, is a particularly challenging side stretch that requires strength, stability, presence and patience to perform safely. Also referred to as Pyramid Pose, Parsvottanasana is all about commitment in the legs—creating a solid foundation and strong container to release and expand into.
The pose is definitely more of an intense hamstring (and hip) opener than a side body stretch, and should be approached mindfully and methodically, using the support of a wall or blocks. When done properly, the benefits of Parsvottanasana come from lengthening the spine and strengthening the legs while stimulating digestive organs and calming the mind (as forward folds tend to do).
Warning: You may find it difficult to balance in Parsvottanasana. The key is strength and stability before flexibility. In other words, don’t compromise your balance to get deeper into the forward fold. The stronger and more stable your foundation is—the more length and freedom you’ll experience in Parsvottanasana.
Getting into Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)
- Begin standing in Tadasana (Mountain Standing Pose) at the front of your mat with your hands on your hips. Step your left foot back about three-and-a-half to four feet. Spin your left heel in and down to the mat, so that your left foot points forward, but is angled slightly outward.
- With both feet flat on your mat, hug your legs toward one another, as if you were squeezing a block between your inner thighs, inhale and actively lengthen your spine. Exhale and begin to hinge at the hips, extending your torso long over your front leg.
- Stop when your torso becomes parallel with the floor, or at the point when your lower spine begins to round. You can check this by placing the fingers of one hand on your lumbar spine. If the vertebrae are poking out, your lower spine is rounding. Lift your torso up until you can feel the lumbar spine dipping into your back.
- Strongly press both feet into the mat, drawing your right hip back so that the leg lengthens. Take care not to let your right hip swing out to the right side.
- With your spine extended, release both hands to the floor (or blocks) on either side of your right foot. If you can’t reach blocks here, you can position yourself in front of a wall and press your hands into the wall to help you lengthen your torso. Press all ten fingertips down and both thighbones back as you lengthen the front of your torso, taking your heart forward.
- Pause here and breathe. If you have the flexibility, you can fold deeper over the front leg, but keep your spine (and side bodies) long. Hold for five rounds of breath.
- To release, press both feet down firmly into the mat, put a slight bend in your front knee and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and rise to stand with a flat back. Step your left foot forward and right foot back to repeat on the second side.
Pyramid Pose: Common Misalignments
- Alignment is the biggest challenge in Parsvottanasana. Even experienced yoga practitioners have difficulty maintaining the proper rotation of the thighs, as well as core engagement.
- I cannot express enough how important it is to keep a solid, stable foundation; however, even with a strong commitment in the legs, chances are your hips won’t stay aligned as you forward fold into Parsvottanasana.
- Inevitably, the front right hip will swing out to the side and lift up and your back left hip will turn out—torquing your pelvis. To realign, slightly bend your right knee, press down through the inner edge of your right foot and open your knee to the right until the four corners of the knee are pointing straight forward. Then pulling back slowly through the outer right thighbone, strongly cut your right hip under as you re-straighten the leg. As you do this, reach back through your inner left thigh, and strongly press down through your outer left heel.
- The sides of your chest are meant to stay long in Parsvottanasana (hence the name Intense Side Stretch Pose), however, many students shorten their side bodies and round their waists in an attempt to reach the floor.
Stages and Variations for Intense Side Stretch (Pyramid) Pose
Parsvottanasana can be a really intense posture, especially for those with tight hamstrings and lower back, and is great to learn in stages with the use of props.
- First, try Pyramid Pose at the wall.
- Set up your stance exactly the same as above with your front foot three to six inches away from the baseboard.
- Hinge forward at the hip creases and bring your hands to the wall.
- Push your hands into the wall and root down through both feet.
- Pressing the tops off your thighs back, reach your belly and heart forward toward the wall, lengthening the front of your body.
Next stage: Hands on Blocks
The full variation of Parsvottansana is done with the hands in reverse Namaste, and it’s an extremely deep pose. Either join your palms behind your back with your fingers pointing up your spine, make fists and press your knuckles together or grab ahold of opposite elbows behind your back. Follow the same steps above to forward fold into the pose.
Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher (500 ERYT) and writer with a passion for helping people find more comfort, clarity, compassion and joy on the mat and in their lives. She is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga a comprehensive encyclopedia of prominent yoga styles, including each system’s teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion and personal attention. Currently living in Los Angeles, Meagan teaches at the various Equinox Sports Clubs, works privately with clients and leads retreats internationally. You can find her blog, teaching schedule and latest offerings at www.MeaganMcCrary.com, as well as on Facebook.