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Obtaining deeper understanding of a yoga posture

Updated: Jan 18

Parshva Supta Padangushtasana

Parshva = to the side

Supta = prone

Pada = foot

Angushta = big toe

Asana = posture

What is fascinating about teaching Purna Yoga to students who want to become teachers and have practiced yoga with different traditions for years is that I get to know what is done “out there”. 

Obtaining deeper understanding of a yoga posture
Photo: Letitia Walker Purna Yoga 828

I’ve been a student of Aadil Palkhivala for many years, I don’t practice with other teachers anymore, so I really don’t know what is taught in different traditions.

But there is of course Instagram.

Even though I don’t follow yogi poses, I get to hear from my students what is posted and declared as the truth of yoga, when it’s actually asana gone wild.

Today we are discussing Parshva Supta Padangushtasana

See photo above.

In Purna Yoga this pose is part of the hip opening series which was designed and refined by my teacher Aadil Palkhivala and his teacher BKS Iyengar over decades.

What has gone wrong with this pose out there?

A lot of yogis seem to think that the pelvis should become a flat plane, almost like a disc.


Why is this so important?

When you take one leg out to the side and you don’t let the opposite hip bone lift up you will damage your back. The danger in this pose is the pressure on the SI joint, because this joint is not designed to move that way.

To understand this better let’s look at the anatomy of the pelvis. We’ve got the front view with the ilium which refer to as the hip bones, the sacrum attached to the sacroiliac joint, short SI joint (left). In the photo on the right you see the SI joint from behind marked in red.

Imagine what would happen if you’d press those two iliums apart - down to the floor - if you are lying on your back? Exactly, you would compress the SI joint into a place it's not designed to move. It's actually not meant to be stretched at all, with some exceptions like childbirth.

anatomy of pelvis yoga pose
Sacroiliac joint

How is the SI joint designed to move then?

The main function of the SI joint is to bear the weight of the axial skeleton and transfer it to the hip bones. This joint is surrounded by ligaments and they are not meant to stretch.

That is exactly what happens in Parshva Supta Padangushtasana gone wrong. If the right leg goes out to the side and the left hip stays down on the floor the SI is compressed. Voila, you got your lower back pain.

The point of the pose

Too many yoga students suffer from pain in the back and they shouldn’t if their teacher understands the anatomy.

How to do the pose:

  • Start with the legs active on the floor, keeping them together

  • Lift your right leg up while keeping the left one grounded

  • Hold your big toe or use a belt - the leg has to be straight

  • Place your left hand on your left hip bone

  • Slowly move the right leg out to the side, this is stretching the adductors

  • Allow the left hip to rise (do NOT press the hip down)

  • Then move the left hip and the right heel away from each other to create space in the inner thigh

  • The outer foot of the right leg should be parallel to the floor (see photo above)

  • Do it on both sides

The point of this pose is to stretch the adductors, (inner thigh) to bring balance into your hip.

purna yoga asana anatomy

Never ever let anyone do this to you (photo below). Sometimes its good to see what’s wrong in order to see what’s right. Here are my corrections.

damaging back in yoga asana
Don't do Parshva Supta Padangushtasana this way
  1. The heels have to actively press away and the quadriceps contracted, meaning leg strong and both feet flexed

  2. Keep arm straight, holding the strap as high as possible (or big toe), to have less tension in shoulders

  3. The belt should be by the edge the heel, so the stretch goes into the inner thigh (adductors) and not calf (nothing wrong with a calf stretch, but this pose has another purpose)

  4. The left hip is pulled away in a straight line laterally, press down the thigh to stabilise left leg

Note: for flexible yogis, there is no point to pull the right leg closer to the shoulder, rather press the leg away - the pelvis needs to stay aligned

Let me know in the comments if you agree and feel the difference.

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