Stretch the Flank and Lengthen the Spine
How often do you bend your spine (trunk) to the side? If you are like most people, the answer is: not often. But there are muscles there that could greatly benefit from the stretch. Here are a few, and they are all core:
- Quadratus lumborum – located at the waist on either side, this fundamental posture muscle works when you hike your hip up, like a fashion model might, or when you are standing on one leg.
- Intercostals – located between each rib, the intercostals are a set of muscles that criss-cross one another. They work during breathing to help you expand the rib cage and take in more air. They also help support a pain-free upper body.
- Internal and external obliques – these abdominal muscles, especially the internal obliques, are located fairly deeply in the trunk. They help support posture and they work when you exhale.
When you do the side angle pose, feel the stretch as one diagonal line, from your back foot through your trunk and all the way out your arm and hand. Anchor the heel of your outstretched leg into the floor to intensify the stretch.
Yoga instruction, especially Iyengar style, often comes with finer points to help you realize the benefits of the pose. In side angle, one particularly useful point is to direct the top hip up toward the ceiling and back. This causes the back muscles to work harder and will also result in a deeper stretch of the all the muscles mentioned above, especially the quadratus lumborum. To accommodate this up-and-back direction of the pelvis on the straight leg side, the pelvis on the other side should be brought forward.
Scoliosis & Kyphosis
Side bending not only stretches the flank, but it can help work on the muscles affected by postural conditions, especially scoliosis and kyphosis. Spending years of your life with a side-to-side curve in your spine makes the nearby muscle groups tight, weak and imbalanced in relation to one another. So when you get a chance to stretch those muscles, as side angle offers, you are taking a pro-active step towards managing the pain caused by scoliosis. And, one of the alignment points of this pose is to stack your top shoulder directly above the bottom one. This has the potential to reverse years of posture problems. The stretch may present a challenge at first, so go easy, but keep trying.
Alignment and Foundation– Hints for Beginners
Practice with your back against the wall to help you keep the pose aligned. After you feel secure enough you can step away, and work without the help and guidance of the wall. The pose uses a wide base of support, meaning that your feet are far away from each other. A wide base will help you to keep your balance while you tend to the other challenges the pose has to offer.
Coulter, H.D., Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers and Practitioners. 2001 Body and Breath. Honesdale, PA.
Cole, R., PhD. Yoga Teachers' Course (Manual). 1997. San Diego, CA.
Mehta, M. and Arjunwadkar, K. Yoga Explained. 2005 Kyle Books. Lanham, MO.