by Jessica Young | Photography by Hannah Fehrman
The next pose in our Backing Up Series is a static pose that opens up the side body and stretches and tones the core: Gate Pose. Tula Yoga’s Cassi Stuckman shows us the ropes.

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BEFORE YOU BEGIN

When working with your back, especially if you have a previous injury, TAKE YOUR TIME. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it! If you’re at all unsure of whether your body can handle these poses, consult with your health care professional, and if you feel pain, STOP! These poses are designed to build strength and flexibility, to encourage surrender, to cultivate relaxation, but not to cause pain.

Take it from the top: Learn the previous poses in this series, Child’s pose and Cat-Cow pose. Each week, the yoga experts from Tula Yoga will be back with a new pose to help you slowly and steadily master a sequence—and bring peace, calm, and balance to your everyday.




BENEFITS

Gate Pose, or Parighasana, is great for stretching the sides of the torso, which can often be ignored. When we forward bend, like in Downward Dog or Standing Forward Bend, our spine flexes, and when we do backbends—think Cobra —it extends, but it’s important to give our spine a full range of motion by bending laterally, too. Gate Pose accomplishes this wonderfully. It targets a series of muscles in the abdominals known as the obliques, it provides a great massage for the internal organs, and it stretches and strengthens the sides of the spine, as well as the outer hips. Try Gate Pose when you’re feeling stiff, or take it near the beginning of the practice to warm up your spine, or at the end in preparation for relaxation.

TO DO

Come to your knees on one end of your mat, standing on your knees. Make sure your knees are as wide as your hips, and if you’re uncomfortable here, fold over your mat or take a blanket under your knees for padding. Stand on your left knee and extend your right leg straight out from your hip, with your right foot pointing forward, toward the long end of your mat. Take a moment to make sure that your torso, knee and extended leg are all within the same plane: your foot shouldn’t be too far forward or back.

On an inhale, extend through your fingers and stretch both arms overhead. As you press through the outer edge of your extended foot, take your right hand on your leg. Reach your hand wherever it falls to give you a good, sustainable, level of stretch: above or below the knee, but NOT on the side of your knee. Hold your leg, but don’t take too much weight into your leg—you’re actually stretching on both sides, not collapsing over to one side. Reach your left hand over to your right. As you stretch, externally rotate your arm: imagine wrapping your shoulder blade toward your underarm, so that the pinky-finger side and palm of your hand face the ground. Tuck your tailbone and use the strength of your abs to support your back, even if this prevents you from stretching as deeply. Breathe deeply into your side ribs, feeling the space you create in your left side body with each breath. Stay here for five breaths.

To come out of the pose, reach your left hand toward the left, while the rest of your body remains in the pose, until your left arm is parallel to the floor. Take a moment to breathe into this lovely stretch in your left shoulder and neck here. Then, imagine a friend is pulling on your left hand and let it pull you upright, out of the pose. As a counterpose, take your left hand to the floor and stretch to your left, taking your arm overhead or above your ear. Then, push off the floor to rise, return your right leg to kneel beside your left, and sit back on your knees. Take a breath. Try the same pose on the second side.

SAFETY TIPS

  • It’s important to remember not to take weight on the sides of your knee while you’re in Gate Pose. Knees only bend one direction; as in Tree Pose, putting any pressure on the sides of this joint can cause damaging injury.

  • Also, make sure to keep your tailbone tucked and engage your stomach muscles in the pose. Notice how in the photo, Cassi’s body is all in one plane. This keeps the stretch in your side body, which isolates your intercostal muscles, rather than destabilizing the stretch by taking it into your hips. Making sure your alignment in poses is true protects your joints and helps you build strength.

  • Finally, make sure you’re pressing the outer edge of your foot into the floor when you straighten your leg. Allowing your leg to collapse into your inner arch, which is very common, weakens your ankle. Pressing strongly into the floor will build strength in your leg and your foot, and support you more in the pose.
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