Yoga Practice Tips: 3 Moves to Avoid in Side Bending and What to Do Instead
There is this interesting thing that I observed during my years of teaching yoga – it often seems that if the student has an incredible range in bending backwards, she would probably have difficulty with pure side bending, while the folks who cannot bend back very far have greater range in bending sideways. This is not the rule, of course – there is much variety in what our bodies can and cannot do; but it would make sense – the spine cannot be extra-mobile in every possible direction without compromising its stability.
We bend sideways to alternately stretch and contract the sides of the torso. To be able to accomplish that we need to keep the side bending “pure,” meaning keeping the body in one plane instead of folding into a familiar combination of the twist and forward bend. That way we can get the benefits and minimize the risk to the sacrum (somewhat).
It is useful to explore the idea of pure side bending in the supine position, where you have a reference of the ground to show you which parts of the body tend to pop out of alignment. Let’s take a look at Jathara Parivrtti (lateral adaptation) or the Crescent Shape.
When we curve the body sideways like that, there will be a tendency of the opposite butt cheek to lift of the floor, so we need to make sure that we keep it down even if it means decreasing the curve of the body. The same dynamic will happen in the pure “pelvic opening” position (above). There will be a tendency to rotate the pelvis following the movement of the extended leg, and the upper body will try to do the same. The tighter the hips are, the more the pelvis will tip. To counteract that tendency we can place the hand on the hip to help monitor its position; we can bend the extended leg to lessen the leverage and we can limit the outer movement of the leg.
When we explore lateral bending in a standing position, it is best to begin with feet parallel to each other to concentrate the stretch on the side of the torso and keep the hip out of the equation. Here is how we do it.
On the inhale widen the chest and bring the arms out to the sides. On the exhale gradually contract the abdomen and bend sideways, placing the bottom hand on the leg (try to keep the body in one plane). On the inhale lengthen the spine, pull the chest away from the navel and widen the collarbones. On the exhale re-engage the abdomen, monitoring the position of the pelvis. Continue to breathe like that, making subtle adjustments to the position of the body as you breathe.
If you turn one foot out you will add an additional challenge of monitoring the position of the pelvis in relation to your hip and increase the risk tweaking your sacroiliac joint. Here are some other common release valves that often show up in lateral bends.
Most of those release valves show up because the student is striving to put the hand down on the floor or as far down the leg as possible. This is not necessary. The hand can land wherever it lands.
1. Exaggerating the spinal curve while in the pose can create tension in the lower back and strain the sacroiliac ligaments. This usually happens if the student has hypermobility in the lumbar spine. To prevent this from happening we need to progressively contract the abdomen while moving into the pose (to control the tipping of the pelvis) and then continue to work with abdominal contraction on every exhalation while in the pose.
2. Excessive rounding of the upper back and displacing the chest forward usually happens if the student already has a pronounced upper back curve. To avoid excessive rounding we need to focus on widening the collarbones and pulling the chest away from the navel on the inhalation. Turning the right leg further out will allow the head of the femur to slide deeper into the hip socket, which means that the pelvis will tip slightly to the right allowing for a deeper side bend and less compression on the right side of the torso. Keeping the right knee slightly bent will help with that as well. If further hip rotation is not possible, the student needs to bring the hand higher up the leg and limit the range of the side bend.
3. Rotating the pelvis forward too much while bending sideways stresses the sacroiliac joint on the right side. We need to limit the pelvis displacement even if it means that the student won’t go as deep into the pose.
Reprinted with permission from SequenceWiz
Educated as a school teacher, Olga Kabel has been teaching yoga for over 14 years. She completed multiple Yoga Teacher Training Programs, but discovered the strongest connection to the Krishnamacharya/ T.K.V. Desikachar lineage. She had studied with Gary Kraftsow and American Viniyoga Institute (2004-2006) and received her Viniyoga Teacher diploma in July 2006 becoming an AVI-certified Yoga Therapist in April 2011. Olga is a founder and managing director of Sequence Wiz – a web-based yoga sequence builder that assists yoga teachers and yoga therapists in creating and organizing yoga practices. It also features simple, informational articles on how to sequence yoga practices for maximum effectiveness. Olga strongly believes in the healing power of this ancient discipline on every level: physical, psychological, and spiritual. She strives to make yoga practices accessible to students of any age, physical ability and medical history specializing in helping her students relieve muscle aches and pains, manage stress and anxiety, and develop mental focus.