Pose of the Week: Parsvottanasana

This week’s pose is Parsvottanasana. Parsva = side or flank. Uttana = (Ut = intense, and tan= to extend, stretch, lengthen) means an intense stretch, and Asana = Pose/Posture. ‘The name implies a pose in which the side of the chest is stretched intensely.’ Light on Yoga, p.54.

It’s a standing pose that incorporates elements of a forward bend and inversion.


Image: BKS Iyengar in Parsvottanasana in Light on Yoga (1966)

It is pronounced: Parsh-voh-tan-AHS-anah.

Many years ago when I first started teaching yoga I had done a Hatha yoga teaching course. It was lightweight in comparison to the intense and intensive Iyengar training that I was later to embark upon. My Iyengar teacher trainer asked me to teach Parsvottanasana. I called the pose ‘Pyramid Pose’, and I will never forget the look on his face…. He quickly and succinctly corrected me and asked me to continue to teach.

So now I refer to the asana as Parsvottanasana. The word is a quick and precise reference to what the pose looks like, feels like (particularly if you’re very familiar with it). When I use a word like ‘pyramid’ your mind instantly envisages a pyramid. There it is as clear as day in your mind… The use of the English word ‘pyramid’ may evoke the angles that are represented externally in the asana. It’s the look of the asana from the outside, but it doesn’t encompass the internal aspect or ‘feel’ of the asana. Because when you’re in it you can’t see yourself from the outside.


Image: Claire in the Thursday night Level 2 Class – thanks Claire x

The word Parsvottanasana provides you instantly with the outside shape of the asana and also the inside. This is the reason we use the Sanskrit term. Though it takes a little extra effort to learn some Sanskrit terms there are definitely benefits. 

Yoga is an oral tradition it is passed down orally from teacher to student. There was very little put into writing until the mid-1900s. We can supplement our understanding with printed material, but essentially our experiences come from the classroom continuing the oral tradition. The use of Sanskrit in the classroom also connects us with the yoga gurus from hundreds of years ago in India. It pays respect to the ancient tradition.

Sanskrit also has an important role in the healing properties of sound. When you chant Om three times at the beginning of class, and also the following chants if you are in Level 1 and 2 classes, you are connecting in with the vibrations present in all parts of creation, in all things. As each sound has its own characteristics and wavelength, these are believed to stimulate the chakras (the subtle energy systems of your being).

Referring to the pose in Sanskrit provides clarity of thought and action, setting up clear parameters to develop the steadiness of the asana on the outside and the potential to facilitate internal spaciousness and freedom connecting us to the tradition, the universe and ourselves.

See you on the mat 🙂

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