At least, that is how it feels to me.
What I’m talking about, of course, is pyramid pose, also called parsvottanasana. Not to be confused with purvottanasana, which I did at least twice while researching this post. Did confuse, I mean. Not did purvottanasana.
So for me, pyramid pose is the most intense hamstring stretch I’m safe to do in a “regular” practice. That is, hanumanasana — splits — is more intense and is often safe for me to do, but only if I make that particular pose a focal point of my practice. Which, there are benefits to that, but one of the drawbacks is that it’s not a hamstring stretch that I can spontaneously decide to take. Pyramid pose, however, more often is.
[Cathie Ryder instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
Alignment points that have helped me find comfort in the posture (YMMV):
- Keeping my stance, left to right, as wide as I need to in order to feel stable. For me, this generally means that the balls of my feet are as wide as my hip points: the front one because the whole leg is directly forward from my hip, the back one because, well, that is where it needs to be. For me, this means that even though my back heel is angled in (more on that in a minute), my feet are not on a heel-to-heel alignment, which some sources suggest. I maintain that not falling over in the pose is more beneficial to me than is following someone else’s list of instructions. (Which, you should feel free to apply that same mindset to this list as well.)
- Keeping my stance, front to back, as narrow as I need in order to feel stable. Again, for me, this means my pyramid stance is roughly the same as is my revolved triangle stance — with are both one or two steps shorter than my warrior or triangle stances.
- Angling my back toes out enough to keep my balance but not so much that I torque my knee. Sort of like warrior 1, there’s an expectation in this pose that the hip points will face forward while the foot and ankle will face outward somewhat. Unfortunately, this means that the knee may want to be in both places at once, and depending on the degree of discrepancy, this can cause pain and/or injury for some people. My vote is that it’s never worth hurting myself — especially my joints — just to look like the cover of Yoga Journal. (Which, I am never going to look like the cover of Yoga Journal anyway, so it’s nice to alleviate myself of that imagined pressure.)
- Keeping my knees bent as much as I need in order to feel safe. This especially applies to my front leg, where a lot of people have a tendency to lock the knee. However, because I’m prone to hyper–extending my knees anyway (not so fun, let me tell you), I tend to keep some awareness into that back knee as well.
- Keeping my arm position secondary to whatever’s going on in my legs. The “full” variation of pyramid is generally done with the arms in reverse namaste. Which is certainly fine and all, but it’s a pretty attention-requiring shoulder opener on my end. It doesn’t always work so well combined with an intense hamstring stretch. So, I take pyramid a lot with my fingertips on the floor or in other near-the-floor locations (e.g., on blocks).
- Keeping a long spine really does help. I’m not sure if it’s because it requires me to ground very strongly into my back foot or if it’s just me getting more hip flexion, but keeping a long spine — even, yes, if it means I don’t end up as “far” into the pose — increases my hamstring sensation noticeably.
- Reminding myself to pull my front outer hip back is pretty much a constant. Hooking my thumb into my hip crease is a convenient constant reminder, for times when I can’t feel my hips as accurately as I’d like.
Given that my hamstrings are on the more flexible end and that I still want blocks sometimes, I have to think that there are some people who will be straining even with hands on blocks. Suggested alternatives:
- Hands on a wall, as shown in this video:
[Dina Prioste instructing for Get Exercised. Video via YouTube.]
- Hands on a chair seat, for times when a wall is too high (or unavailable) but blocks are too low.
- Hands resting on or pressing off of upper thigh, particularly useful for times when the above-mentioned props (including blocks!) are inconvenient or unavailable. I mean, I’ve been known to work pyramid into sun salutes, and it doesn’t always work for me to set up props — large or small — when I’m going to be moving out of the pose rather soon.
Finally, because standing postures just don’t work for everyone, I think that I’ll do one more hamstring post — looking at some seated and kneeling alternatives to this stretch — before I move on to the rest of the hips.
Because I really am going to move on to the rest of the hips.