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Cues to help you engage your muscles effectively in extended side angle

asana extended side angle Mar 23, 2023

I am delighted to continue with one of my favorite topics–muscle engagement in yoga asana! So far we've covered plank pose, warrior 2, triangle, and today it is extended side angle (Utthita Parshvakonasana in Sanskrit)!

But why is muscle engagement such a big deal? 

The short answer is that it makes practicing yoga safer. If you do not consciously engage your muscles, you risk putting more stress and pressure than necessary on your joints. 

Let's get into it! 

1. Press the mat away with the bottom hand. This pressing action through the hand allows you to engage the muscles around your shoulders and lift up out of your shoulder joint. Often times in class I give the cue "root down to rise up."

If you can't reach the mat, I recommend stacking up as many blocks as needed and pressing the hands into those.

In my experience, the forearm to the thigh does not allow us to really press down to lift up. I think the tendency to take the forearm to the thigh comes from quickly-moving vinyasa classes with little alignment/instruction or a broad range of ability levels in a class. That being said, it is possible to have the forearm on the thigh and engage the core enough to actively lift up and avoid "dumping" all of the weight into the shoulder, forearm, and thigh. 

2. Spread the fingers on the bottom hand wide. This allows you to press down more effectively, and ultimately lift out of the shoulder joint by pulling muscle to bone. 

3. Energetically squeeze the legs together on your mat without moving them to engage the inner thighs. 
Fun fact! When your front quad gets tired in a pose like extended side angle or warrior 2, find other muscle groups to help you! Especially try to access your inner thighs and your back leg glute muscle. You'll find that you can hold the pose for longer, and with more ease. 

4. Press the knee/leg into the arm. This helps leverage the chest open. 

5. Press the arm back into the knee/leg. This helps leverage the chest open! This isometric muscle engagement (muscle engagement without shortening the muscle fibers) also allows us to better access the deep core! 

Try it and let me know what you think! 



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