Side body poses

The yoga postures we love (and love to hate)

Illustration by Nancy CuervoBenefits: Helps relieve lower back pain, constipation, bronchial distress, scoliosis and frozen shoulders. Strengthens skeletal and circulatory systems. Also trims the waistline and creates long, lean arm muscles (oo la la). Muscles worked, stretched or lengthened: deltoids, hamstrings, trapezius, pecoralis, internal and external obliques, transversus, rectus abdominus, QL (quadratus lumborum), and intercostal muscles. The purpose of this posture is to stretch the spine in all four directions, side to side then front to back (for the anatomy nerds, that’s lateral flexion followed by spinal extension and flexion). In every part of the pose, one side of the body is stretched, while the other is compressed. You set the tone for the entire class right here, so give it all you’ve got (some days that means smiling at yourself in the front mirror).     Teacher cue explained: “from the side your body is in a straight line” What does this mean? The front side of your body is perfectly square to the front mirror, no twisting, forward bending or backward bending. Picture this: you want your body to fit in between two panes of glass on the front and back side of you. Why do we love it? Side body poses At a certain point, when the strength and flexibility are balanced, when the arms are fully locked and the abs are fully engaged, it feels like you are being lifted up, weightless. And when you land back in stillness, you feel taller somehow, and you’re rewarded with an energizing rush. Why do we hate it? If you have tight hips or tight shoulders (big stress holders for many people!), this posture is designed for you – which means it will feel harder. But don’t let it get you down. Relax your face and breathe easy. Your focus is always correct alignment and letting go of the struggle, even though your muscles are working hard. And with that you’re still getting 100% of the benefits the posture has to offer (just the same as that Gumby next to you!). Advanced tip:  “push hips forward, weight in the heels” is a cue for keeping the body in that lateral straight line, counteracting the tendency to collapse the chest forward. Be careful of pushing the hips forward too much and creating a backward bend. Remember: if you are working with an injury or tension, never adjust the fundamentals of the posture. Keep the form, just back off the depth a bit. And most importantly, listen/talk to your teachers- they are full of great (and educated!) advice. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, backbend and forward bend… Love half moon or hate it? Tell us why.