Our breath is prana, life force. The simple act of breathing is what brings many people to a Yoga asana practice, and breath is also what will deepen your practice so you can experience the essence of true Yoga.
The diaphragm, located just beneath the lungs and ribcage, is an important muscle to keep strong and flexible if you want to improve your breath and, by extension, the flow of prana throughout your body. Loosening the tension in your diaphragm caused by stress and modern living will promote deeper, more even breaths. With greater control over the breath, you can exercise greater control over your mind. This will bring you closer to what Yoga is about – union between body, mind and spirit.
There’s no reason to be intimidated by this pose just because it’s an arm balance. Even practicing the preparation with your feet firmly on the ground will offer a deep side twist to soften your diaphragm. Eventually, with practice and proper alignment, your breath will expand and your mind will soon believe that it is possible to lift your feet and fly. And then you will.
A few months back, we talked about bakasana, or crow pose, and the importance of using the pelvic floor to lift – not your arms. The strength in parsva bakasana is no different. By using this important, and often overlooked, set of muscles, you’ll lift into this pose with ease.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana postures with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and provide a sustainable practice that you can continue throughout life.
Parsva bakasana from the ground up
In order to truly work into your diaphragm and get all the wonderful benefits of parsva bakasana, be sure to keep your spine lined up with the midline of your mat throughout the entire pose. This will allow you to spiral around the spine, not wrench it into a twist.
1. Place a pillow just in front of your hands to cushion you in case you tip forward during the pose and start the pose in adho mukha savasana, downward-facing dog. Be sure your wrist creases are even and your feet are hip-width distance.
2. Hop forward so that your feet make the third point of an equal sided triangle, along with your hands. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and your buttocks lifted in the air.
3. Bend your elbows to point straight back and look forward about a foot in front of you. Keeping your shoulders over your wrists and your shoulders and chest straight ahead, start to walk your feet to one side of your mat. Over time, you’ll walk your feet to the outside of your hand, but only go as far as is comfortable and allows you to breathe. Maintain the alignment of your arms and chest and rest the side of your thigh against your upper arm. Pause anywhere you feel challenged and breathe. Going just this far will give you great benefits of the twist.
4. Keeping your elbows bent, shift your body weight onto your upper arm and lift your feet, keeping them flexed throughout the pose to engage the pelvic floor. Look forward, keeping your elbows pointed straight back, chest and shoulders straight ahead and shoulders in the same vertical line as your wrists. Hold for 15-20 breaths and come out the way you went into the pose.
Since the alignment of your spine is so important to get the full benefit of parsva bakasana, here's another view of how this should look when aligned properly.
Common trouble spots
Beginning the pose with improper hand alignment. Be sure your wrist creases are even and aligned with the short side of your mat in adho mukha savasana. This will set you up with a stable foundation from the start.
Shifted shoulders. Avoid shifting your shoulders out of the alignment you set up in step 2 when you walk your feet to the outside of your hand. This alignment is necessary, as it will challenge the tight places in your diaphragm and along your spine.
Lazy feet. Flexing your feet engages the pelvic floor, where the strength in this pose lies. Keep your feet flexed from the moment they leave the ground.
Gazing down. Where you look is where you’ll go – in this case to the floor! Look ahead about a foot in front of you.