Parsvottanasana (Pyramid or Intense Side Stretch Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 6* out of 60*

Iyengar's Technique:

  1. Stand in Tadasana. Stretch your chest forward and arch your back.
  2. Join your palms behind your back and "draw the shoulders and elbows back." Then turn your wrists and bring your fingertips up to the level of your shoulder blades, as if you were gesturing "namaste" behind your back.
  3. Turn to the side and jump your legs apart 3 to 3.5 feet.
  4. Turn your hips and chest 90 degrees to the R. Turn your R foot out 90 degrees and L foot and leg 75 or 80 degrees to the R. Keep your legs stretched strong and "throw the head back."
  5. Fold forward and rest your head on your R knee. Stretch your spine longer and longer so that your nose, then lips, then chin touch your R shin. "Tighten both legs by pulling the knee-caps up." In other words, engage your quadriceps.
  6. Stay here for 20-30 seconds.
  7. Then, remaining in a folded position, swing your head and chest around to your L leg. At the same time, turn your L foot out 90 degrees and your R foot and leg in 75 to 80 degrees, so that you are in the full pose on the other side. Now lift your chest and head upright and into a big backbend. Do everything in step 7 on one inhalation (good luck)!
  8. Fold forward and repeat the instructions listed in steps 5-6, only this time on the other side.
  9. Swing your chest and head back around as in step 7, then return to Tadasana.

Comparing Forms:

  • Iyengar's R leg is completely straight and at the end of its range of motion. In my picture, I'm "microbending" my R knee in an effort to avoid hyperextension and posterior knee pain. In the time since this picture was taken, I've learned how to activate my muscles in such a way that I can skip the microbend with no adverse effects.
  • Iyengar's forearms are resting against his back. My forearms are several inches away from my back. This is either because my wrists are much less elastic than Mr. Iyengar's, or he is being less diligent about keeping his palms pressed together than I am. From the photo, it's difficult to tell.