Parsvottanasana is a pose rotated half-way between Trikonasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. If you remove the Sanskrit sandhi from its name, this pose is “Parsva Uttanasana” — think of it in that way, as Uttanasana done 90 degrees to the side.
In this pose, you center your head over your forward leg and you attempt to center your torso there too, although you will never be able to be fully successful. Still make your maximal effort — take your torso as much as possible over the midline of your front leg so that your navel comes onto the center your front thigh if possible. If you are able to do that, then lower your upper abdomen and front ribs to come evenly to both sides of your front thigh, and so on. This alignment is one of the goals in this pose.
There are different ways to enter this pose:
(1) you can step back from Uttanasana into the pose,
(2) you can step forward from Adho Mukha Svanasana, or
(3) you can jump your feet apart from Tadasana and then enter the pose. The instructions here will be for coming into the pose in this third, classical way.
Start in Tadasana, mountain pose, with your feet together. Raise your kneecaps and keep firm quadriceps and straight legs.
Arms: Extend your arms out to the sides parallel to the floor. Extend the arms maximally so that your scapulae (shoulder blades) move away from the spine. If you can, position the hands palms together fingertips facing upwards on your back as high up the spine as possible. This brings your hands to the Indian “Namaste” salutation behind the body.
Work from your scapulae as you bring your arms into this position. Keep the upper scapulae as far away from the spine as possible as the lower scapulae move in towards the spine. Feel the rotation of the scapulae as the arms move into the Namaste position.
If you do not, as yet, have sufficient flexibility to bring your hands together behind your spine then grasp opposite elbows behind your back.
An important function of the arms in this pose is to help open the upper chest. This opening is encouraged by pressing your outer elbows down and towards each other. Keep the chest as open as possible throughout the pose.
Legs: Step or jump your feet a leg’s length apart. Stand as you would in Trikonasana, with your right foot turned 90 degrees out to the right and your rear left foot turned in. However in this pose the rear foot is turned in more deeply. In Trikonasana the rear foot turns in about 30 degrees while in Parsvottanasana it turns in about twice as far to 60 degrees. This deeper angle in the rear foot allows the pelvis to rotate further in the pose. Eventually the pelvis should rotate until it is facing the forward foot.
Hips: Now swivel your hips to face the right forward foot. Make the hips square facing directly forward with both side hips at the same height. It is a common mistake to have one hip higher than the other in this pose.
Torso: Lengthen your spine and both sides of your torso. Do a mild back arch lifting your ribs up from the pelvis and raising the sternum towards the sky. Arch (don’t fold) the neck backwards. Be sure not to crunch you neck, keeping it long.
Swivel the hips. Bring the hip of the rear leg forward and the hip of the front leg backward. Roll the outer rear leg forward and the inner rear leg backward and bring the upper inner legs towards each other. These movements help rotate the pelvis so that it is aligned facing directly forward. The goal is for the spine to be aligned over the forward leg as you fold forward in the next phase of the pose.
Coming Forward: Bend at the waist and lower your extended spine without allowing your back to round. If possible, descend until your trunk is parallel with the floor. If you cannot come parallel to the floor without rounding the back descend a far as possible with an extended straight spine. As you come forward keep adjusting your hips to maintain their alignment. Keep the spine over the midline of your front leg as much as possible. The ability to descend with a straight spine comes from extension in your legs. Keep the spine extended and the length on each side equal as you descend over the forward leg. Stay in this position for a few breaths.
Allowing any necessary rounding of the spine, descend the torso to the leg. Place your chest on the midline of your front thigh. Extend the torso forward and down along the forward leg. Remove or minimize any rounding of the spine. Keep the side hip bones aligned and parallel. Stay for a few breaths in the pose so you can experience the calming aspects of this posture.
Keep the arms positioned in “reversed Namaste” raise the torso back to an upright position while keeping your hips facing the forward leg. Rotate the pelvis to the front and bring the feet back to a forward facing parallel position.
Take a moment to find your center and then repeat the posture on the left side.
As mentioned above, the full version of this pose is performed with the hands behind the back in Anjali Mudra, a hand position sometimes called Pristanjali Mudra (prish-TOHN-jolly; prishta = “the back, the rear of anything”), or sometimes Paschima Namaskar (posh-EE-mah nam-AHS-car; pashima = “west”; namaskar = “to greet or salute”).
Stand in Tadasana with the hands in Anjali Mudra in front of the heart. Bend your knees slightly and round your back, hunching your shoulders. Exhale, inwardly rotate your arms and sweep them around behind your back. Press the palms together with the thumbs resting on your sacrum, so the fingers point toward the floor. First turn the wrists so the fingers point toward the sacrum, then continue turning until the fingers point toward your head. Your pinkies will now press against your back torso. Slide your hands up your back, lifting and opening your chest as you do. If you can, position the hands between the scapulas, with the pinkies pressing firmly against the spine. Keep the palms spreading together as much as possible. Roll the front shoulders up and back, and lengthen down from the back armpits through the elbows toward the floor. Now follow the instructions for the pose.
- Calms the brain
- Stretches the spine, shoulders and wrists (in the full pose), hips, and hamstrings
- Strengthens the legs
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
- Improves posture and sense of balance
- Improves digestion