Utthita and Parivritta Parsvakonasana
Deepening Awareness: Cultivating Intentionality Through Utthita and Parivritta Parsvakonasana
Ashtanga yoga is constantly asking us to seek growth by looking at things from new angles, offering us an evolving series of yoga postures that can reveal how subtle changes make a dynamic difference. In the process of exploring these developments, we learn how to pay attention. By taking notice of the body’s movement and sensation in a focused way, we develop increased powers of concentration and a more mindful, intentional modus operandi.
This exploration begins early in the Ashtanga Yoga primary series, perhaps most noticeably in the third set of postures of the standing sequence, the Parsvakonasanas. Practicing Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Posture) and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Posture), requires movement very similar to that found in the previous postures, the Trikonasanas. The wider, lunging stance of these poses, however, creates a dynamically different experience, and the juxtaposition of these two pairs of yoga asanas sets this into relief in a highly informative way.
One of the Ashtanga Yoga standing sequence’s many gifts is the cultivation of stability. These standing yoga postures insist the practitioner establish a relationship between him or herself and the ground they stand on. Balance is key in these postures, and every stretch must be supported by strength to reach its full potential – a valuable lesson in the vital interrelationship of flexibility and stability that can be carried through every moment of the physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Stepping wide to the right to begin Utthita Parsvakonasana, allowing the hip socket to release to cultivate a deep, spongy bend in the right knee, the practitioner begins to explore a brand new relationship to the ground. This is not the straight-legged balancing of Trikonasana, but a lunging motion that requires a stabilizing strength through the front thigh and the pelvic floor and a whole new awareness of the legs and hips. There is an opposing spiral created in this posture as the front knee pushes out into the arm and the back leg reaches to press the side of the back foot firmly to the ground. Energy flows through the bent front leg and the straight back leg in opposing directions, creating balance through dynamic opposition of forces. Extending one arm overhead (the one opposite to the front leg) and reaching it forward completes the long line of this pose, inviting the practitioner to cultivate energetic awareness as they explore the current running from the back foot to the front fingertips.
The revolved version of this yoga pose, Parivritta Parsvakonasana, creates yet another new stability challenge, forcing the practitioner to once again deepen their awareness. Squaring the hips and adding a deep twist through the center of the body, the practitioner must now discover how to stabilize and support the lower half of the body while the upper half moves in a different direction. The relationship between different parts of the body is drawn sharply into focus. The legs and pelvic floor must work for stability, exploring once again the backward-reaching energy of the back leg in conjunction with the slight external movement of the deeply bent front leg. At the same time, everything is drawn off-kilter by the up-and-over lift of the rib cage as it twists to offer the opposite hand to the ground. Without concentration and deep awareness, the posture can swiftly lose integrity and/or result in the practitioner tumbling towards the ground.
Growing Inner Strength
And so, through these lunging Ashtanga Yoga postures, the magic of the standing series continues to develop. For a practitioner moving into these postures with integrity, there is an intrinsic mindfulness that arises as the standing series progresses. Exploring the evolution of these postures with focused awareness, the yoga practitioner learns and strengthens intentionality and conscious concentration, habits that will benefit them greatly – on the yoga mat and off of it.
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Lear more about the Primary Series from previous articles:
Photos taken in Ostional Nicaragua.