The Best Side Stretches for Energising You and Relieving Back Pain

 

by Simon Borg-Olivier

In every day life many people do not get enough sideways movement and freedom. Sideways ‘stretches’ (spinal lateral flexion) are really important movements and postures, and are often understated and not practiced in many exercise, stretching and yoga classes.

In this post we demonstrate a simple side stretch (Figure 1 and Figure 2) that can be simply done from standing, and can even be performed with normal clothes on while you are at work. I also give  detailed instructions with the application of 18 different bandhas throughout the body for performing two well known ‘side-stretching’ postures from the classic book by Sri BKS Iyengar “Light on Yoga” named Utthita Parsvakonasana (Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 3) and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolving Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 4). Once performed using these bandhas these postures become very effective methods to enhance your levels of energy and can be an effective means of preventing and relieving joint pain.

The simplest ‘side-stretch’ (Figure 1 and Figure 2) can be done as follows without trying to overstretch or cause pain:

  • stand with your legs about hip width apart and your knees slightly bent
  • push the sitting bones down, and move the top of the hips back to lengthen the lower back
  • move your lower front ribs back and lift and slightly round out your upper back
  • lift your left shoulder (and also your whole arm if possible) as high as you can (shoulder past your ears if possible)
  • push your right shoulder downwards and lengthen your right hand towards to the floor
  • lean on your left leg and then push the right ‘sitting-bone’ slightly up and forwards and come onto your right toe tip.
  • breathe naturally into your abdomen and make sure you do not over stretch or cause pain.
Lengthening the side of the body, by Simon Borg-Olivier

Figure 1: Lengthening the side of the body, by Simon Borg-Olivier

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Figure 2: Lengthening the side of the body, Bianca Machliss (photo courtesy Alejandro Rolandi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two more elaborate side-strethches are described below. The first of these is Utthita Parsvakonasana (the extended side angle posture), which is mainly a side-bending posture. The second posture is Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (the revolving side angle posture), which is a twisting side bending posture. Both postures are practiced in many yoga and stretching classes. The instructions detailed here  have been developed by YogaSynergy co-director Bianca Machliss and myself over many decades of teaching. As registered physiotherapists and long time yoga teachers Bianca and I have been very careful to develop instructions that only effectively create strength and flexibility but also help to improve circulation in order to generate and move energy inside your body. This is primarily done by the generation of 15 bandhas (co-activation of opposing muscle groups that not only stabilise joints but also act as conduits for the movement of energy and information through the body.

You can learn more about how this works by joining our online courses ‘Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals’ and/or ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga‘. You can also find out about our live courses and teacher training here.

 

 

 

 

Detailed instructions for Parsvakonasana (Lateral angle posture) by Simon  Borg-Olivier (Please click on photo to enlarge)

Figure 3: Detailed instructions for Parsvakonasana (Lateral angle posture) by Simon Borg-Olivier (Please click on photo to enlarge and/or download to save/print)

 

UTTHITA PARSAVAKONASANA (Extended side angle posture) WITH 15 BANDHAS (Figure 3)

Bandhas are often called yogic locks or doors. On the physical level (anatomically) they are the co-activation (simultaneous tensing) of antagonistic (opposing) muscle groups around a joint complex. Bandhas can form in many ways around each of the 9 main joint complexes using the 20 main muscle group pairs. There are two main types of bandhas. Those that compress a region of the body can be termed ha-bandhas while those that expand a region of the body can be termed tha-bandhas. On an energetic (or physiological)  level bandhas can affect the movement of energy and information through the body. Ha-bandhas are like locked or closed doors that restrict the flow of blood through a region, while tha-bandhas are like unlocked or open doors that enhance the floor of blood through a region of the body. Using this information you can practice postures in a way that directs blood, energy and information to wherever you want in your body and use it for the enhancement of your health and longevity. You can learn more about ha and tha-bandhas and related information from the book and online courses named ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’ by Bianca Machliss and I.

 NECK: Tha-jalandhara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around neck)

* Lengthen the back of neck (bring the head down and neck back)

* Rotate the neck to the left

* Lengthen the left side of the neck (left ear away from left shoulder)

* Lengthen the front of the neck (bring throat forward and chin up

 

CHEST: Tha-uddiyana bandha:

(Co-activate around chest)

* Expand the chest and upper back like inhaling into the chest

* Keep the lower front ribs in

 

WAIST: Tha-mula bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around waist)

* Move the navel and navel spine (L4-L5) forward

* Lengthen the back of trunk

* Lengthen the left side trunk

* Rotate the navel and navel spine (L4-L5) to the left

* Twist trunk upwards to left side

* Lengthen the front of the trunk

 

LEFT SHOULDER: Tha-amsa bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around shoulder)

* Push the shoulder blade forwards

* Push the elbow backwards

 

RIGHT SHOULDER: Ha-amsa bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around shoulder)

* Push the armpits towards hips

* Push the hand away from hips

 

LEFT ELBOW: Tha-kurpara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around elbow)

* Straighten the elbow

* Turn the forearm inwards (pronate)

 

RIGHT ELBOW: Tha-kurpara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around elbow)

* Push down from shoulder to hand

* Move inner elbow towards fingers

 

LEFT WRIST: Tha-mani bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around wrist)

* Lengthen each finger tip

* Extend the wrist

 

RIGHT WRIST: Ha-mani bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around wrist)

* Spread the fingers then press down with the fingertips

 

LEFT HIP: Tha-kati bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around hip)

* Turn the left thigh inwards without dropping the left pelvis

 

RIGHT HIP: Ha-kati bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around hip)

* Turn the right thigh outwards

 

LEFT KNEE: Tha-janu bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around knee)

* Pull up the knee-caps

* Press on the front of the foot

 

RIGHT KNEE: Ha-janu bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around knee)

* Push down from knee to foot

* Tighten the back of the knee

 

LEFT ANKLE: Ha-kulpha bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around ankle)

* Lift the inner arch of the foot

* Spread the toes then press down with the tips of the toes

 

RIGHT ANKLE: Ha-kulpha bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around ankle)

* Lift the inner arch of the foot

* Spread the toes then press down with the tips of the toes

Detailed instructions for Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Lateral angle posture) by Simon  Borg-Olivier (Please click on photo to enlarge)

Figure 4: Detailed instructions for Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Lateral angle posture) by Simon Borg-Olivier (Please click on photo to enlarge and/or download to save/print)

PARIVRTTA PARAVAKONASANA (Revolving side angle posture) WITH 15 BANDHAS (Figure 4)

NECK: Tha-jalandhara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around neck)

* Lengthen the back of neck (bring the head down and neck back)

* Rotate the neck to the right

* Lengthen the right side of the neck (right ear away from right shoulder)

* Lengthen the front of the neck (bring throat forward and chin up

 

CHEST: Tha-uddiyana bandha:

(Co-activate around chest)

* Expand the upper back

* Contract the chest and upper back as if exhaling from the chest

* Keep the upper back lengthened

 

WAIST: Tha-mula bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around waist)

* Move the navel and navel spine (L4-L5) forward and down

* Lengthen the back of trunk

* Lengthen the right side trunk

* Rotate the navel and navel spine (L4-L5) to the right

* Twist trunk upwards to right side

* Lengthen the front of the body

 

LEFT SHOULDER: Ha-amsa bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around shoulder)

* Push the armpits towards hips

* Push the hand away from hips

 

RIGHT SHOULDER: Tha-amsa bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around shoulder)

* Push the shoulder blade forwards

* Push the elbow backwards

 

 

LEFT ELBOW: Tha-kurpara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around elbow)

* Push down from shoulder to hand

* Move inner elbow towards fingers

 

RIGHT ELBOW: Tha-kurpara bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around elbow)

* Straighten the elbow

* Turn the forearm inwards (pronate)

 

 

LEFT WRIST: Ha-mani bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around wrist)

* Spread the fingers then press down with the fingertips

 

RIGHT WRIST: Tha-mani bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around wrist)

* Lengthen each finger tip

* Extend the wrist

 

 

LEFT HIP: Tha-kati bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around hip)

* Turn the left thigh inwards without dropping the left pelvis

 

RIGHT HIP: Ha-kati bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around hip)

* Turn the right thigh outwards

 

LEFT KNEE: Tha-janu bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around knee)

* Pull up the knee-caps

* Press on the front of the foot

 

RIGHT KNEE: Ha-janu bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around knee)

* Push down from knee to foot

* Tighten the back of the knee

 

LEFT ANKLE: Ha-kulpha bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around ankle)

* Lift the inner arch of the foot

* Spread the toes then press down with the tips of the toes

 

RIGHT ANKLE: Ha-kulpha bandha:

(Co-activate muscles around ankle)

* Lift the inner arch of the foot

* Spread the toes then press down with the tips of the toes

 

These are only some of the many ways of working in these two postures. The YogaSynegy method serves to give stability to the joints as well as promoting the generation and flow of energy and information through the body by using the co-activation (bandha) pump of circulation.

This information is derived from the book and online courses named ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’  and ‘Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals’ by Bianca Machliss and I. We also have live courses and teacher training in various places around  the world.

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