Extended side angle pose pops up in a number of yoga classes and videos. I love the pose because of the feeling of length I get from my pinky toe to my pinky finger.
However, I can’t get to that feeling in the extending side of the body if I’m crunched in the other side. Here’s how I get un-crunched in this pose (you will need a block for this, so please have one handy):
1. Begin standing on the mat with your feet approximately four feet apart (the width will vary based on a number of factors, including the length, strength, and flexibility of your legs). For the purposes of this example, the left foot will be the back foot and the right foot will be the front foot.
2. From here, turn your back (left) toes in approximately 30 degrees and turn your front (right) leg and foot out 90 degrees. Pause here and take a look at your feet. Draw an imaginary line (or actually bend down and trace your finger) from your right heel to your left foot. Your right heel should line up with the middle of your left arch (you can see the strap in the image at right indicating this).
3. Bend through your right thigh and knee, bringing your right thigh as close to parallel to the ground as is comfortable for you. Again we’ll take a moment to notice. Take a look at your right knee and get out your imaginary ruler. Take your right index finger to the center of your right kneecap and trace it down over your shin, past your foot, and onto your toes. You want this line to end up on the second toe. By keeping the knee tracking with the second toe, we’re keeping the leg in alignment and minimizing risk to our right knee. People have a tendency to let the knee collapse in here (toward the big toe and beyond). This is often due to tightness in the hips and/or weakness in the inner thigh. Another way to visualize this alignment is to imagine a horseshoe around your front thigh. The horseshoe starts at your pelvis and runs along your inner thigh; the “U” of the horseshoe is your knee; the other side of the horseshoe runs along your outer thigh to your tailbone.
3. Grab your block and place it in front of the big-toe side (or the inside) of your right foot. I suggest placing the block on its tallest setting to begin.
4. If you’ve lost it, bend again through your right knee, bringing it close to parallel with the ground. From here, place your right hand onto the right block. The block is here for support; if we were in class right now, I should be able to come over and gently remove your block without you tipping over (don’t worry; I would warn you first. I’m not one of those teachers). Notice what you’re feeling here–especially any crunching through the right thigh and the right side of your torso. The block helps to alleviate some crunching. However, if you still feel some (which I do), try this: release your hand from the block, straighten your right leg, and come back to standing. Pause here for a moment to reorient yourself. When you’re ready, bring your hand to the your right lower abdomen. If you have extra weight here (sometimes lovingly called a spare tire), grip onto it gently. Keeping your grip, begin bending again through the right thigh and knee. As you bend, tuck the skin in and down toward the pelvis and the crook where the thigh meets the abdomen. After you’ve bent and tucked, release your right hand again to the block. This movement hopefully gave you a little more freedom in the right side of the body.
4. You may now bring the left hand to the left hip. You can continue to work here, noticing and experimenting with your alignment. If you would like to add on, extend the left arm up and over the left ear, palm facing the floor. You will now have one long line on the left side of your body extending from foot to fingers. You may notice in the picture above that my left leg does not look straight; however, it is. It just doesn’t look that way because of the shape of my legs. This is common with plus-sized yogis and is another good reason for us to hone our inner teacher instead of trying to conform to what we see in books or our neighbors around us in class. The head here can be in several positions: looking down at the ground, looking at the wall in front of your pelvis (not in front of your right foot), or looking up at the left hand. Take your time here and see what works for you. If your front thigh gets tired (mine already is just from writing this), come out and take a break. You can switch sides to give the legs a break and to notice the differences side to side. Most likely you will notice differences from one side to another, as all of us have stronger and weaker sides, tighter and more flexible sides, injured and non-injured sides, etc.
The most important thing about practicing this, and any, yoga pose is to give yourself the opportunity to tune into your body and see what works for you. These and any other instructions can and should be discarded if they don’t work for your particular energy, ability, etc. Yoga is designed to be adapted to you, not the other way around.