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Finding Space in the Side Body

Yoga is all about finding space, in the body, breath and mind. In a physical practice we group the asana (poses) into: standing, forward bends, back bends, twisting, inversions and laterals (side bends). Often left on the back burner, in favour of other asana, are these laterals.

In bending sideways, we stretch and open the intercostal muscles in between the ribs, creating space and vastly expanding breathing capacity. The muscles in the side of the body that we are stretching work from the lower back all the way up the side of the body and even into the armpit, in poses where the arm is extending over the head.

This length and flexibility from side bending is empowering in the rest of our practice. After working the sides, the body can carry itself further forward in folds and allows a deeper opening through the heart in back bends.

Finding space in my body to breathe is deeply exhilarating and refreshing. Stretching my sides, feeling my ribs and lungs full of life force is just too delicious not to share. Here are some examples of my side bending practice. You can jump right into these or use them as part of a longer practice. Enjoy!

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Supported side bend: A great one to start or finish a pratice with. This Yin style bend will open the sides of the body with comfort and ease. Use a bolster, pillows or rolled up blankets. The bottom arm and leg can relax as you gently lengthen through the top arm and leg. Stay here at least 10 breaths on each side, or for a deeper release stay for 5-10 minutes.

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Parighasana: Stand on the knees and take your right leg straight out to the side. Sliding the right hand down the right leg, reach up and over with the left arm. Breathe into the left set of ribs and keep opening your chest. 5 breaths and repeat on other side.

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Bananasana: Lie on your back with your arms over your head. Take the shoulders and the heels over to the right side of your mat, ensuring that both hips stay grounded down. Take hold of opposite elbows over head and relax into this passive side bend. There is the option to increase the stretch by crossing the left ankle over the right.

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Parivrtta Upavistha Konasana: Sit on a block or on your mat with the legs out as wide as is comfortable. Flex the feet and make sure the toes and knees are facing the ceiling. Take the right elbow down inside the right leg. Use the elbow against the leg to rotate the chest open towards the ceiling. Reach up and over with the left arm, eventually aimimg to take hold of the foot. Be careful not to force this. Only stretch as far as is comfortable for you today. Listen to your body and your breath.

Finish your practice relaxing in Savasana.

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