Asana of the Week: Parsvottanasana

Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) is an asymmetrical standing forward fold which brings a strong stretch to the hamstrings and glutes of the front leg while lengthening the calf muscles of the back leg.  The position of the hands inwardly rotates the shoulders to release the muscles of the shoulder girdle and upper back, while the wrists and forearms are stretched as the palms press behind the back.  The deep forward fold and relatively narrow stance work the abdominals to bring the upper body forward over the leg and stabilize the pose.

The stance here is slightly shorter than one leg's length apart and the hips are square and level.  There is a tendency to collapse in the front hip which pulls the body off center and makes balance difficult.  Counteract this tendency by continually tucking the front hip back and keeping the back leg strong, grounding into that back heel.  Activate the pose by consciously using the deep muscles of the abdomen to pull the chest forward over the front leg.  Press the ball of the front foot into the mat as though you are putting "pedal to the metal" in order to engage the leg and prevent hyperextension of the knee.

It may take some time to develop sufficient flexibility in the shoulders and wrists to practice the pose with hands in the reverse Namaste position.  As an alternative, you may hold opposite forearms behind the back or press fists together.  For a more restorative pose, release the hands to the floor on either side of the front leg (pictured below) -- this variation is especially nice as a resting pose during a strong standing sequence.

Parsvottanasana Sequence:  Notice the sensations in the outer hip of the front leg as you move through this challenging standing sequence.  Use Parsvottanasana and Prasarita Padottanasana as opportunities to deepen the breath while maintaining a strong relationship with the earth by actively grounding into the feet.
  1. Anjaneyasana (High Crescent Lunge variation)
  2. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
  3. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle - lunge variation)
  4. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch - variation w/ hands on the floor)
  5. Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits)
  6. Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half Moon Pose)
  7. Parivrtta Natarajasana (Revolved Dancer Pose)
  8. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
  9. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-leg Forward Fold)
  10. Vinyasa; Repeat steps 1-9 on the opposite side.


  1. Tough sequence. Is Parivrtta Natarajasana opposite hand to foot and torso upright over the hips?? I enjoy your Blog - the 'kick ass hair' guru made me laugh out loud! Namaste~

  2. Hi, Rachel. Thanks for reading. Parivrtta Natarajasana, in this instance, could be done with the front hand on the floor, or if you were feeling especially saucy, you could bring the pose upright for a few breaths and then lower back down. Yogi's choice.

  3. nice! I find this one of the hardest poses despite my pretty open hamstrings. Thank heavens for blocks.. otherwise I'd never be able to teach it to my less flexi students

    1. The full expression of this pose does require "lengthened" hamstrings, but also a lengthening or release in the glutes and lower back muscles in particular, but really a release all the way up the spine. Blocks may be more a burden in this pose than a help, because they encourage premature relaxation or anterior muscles that should be engaged to move deeper in this pose.

  4. @Flyingyogini - I like to teach a variation with the back heel turned up in my beginner or all-levels classes. This way, students can bend the front knee as needed without destabilizing the pose. It's also easier to understand the "square the hips" directive from this position.