Pyramid Pose is a standing yoga posture that combines the benefits of three major movements: Forward bending, backward bending, and balancing. It requires intense focus and a very calm mind to balance and stay in correct alignment.
Its Sanskrit name, “Parsvottanasana” (PARZH-voh-tahn-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from four words:
- “Parsva” — meaning “side” or “flank”
- “Ut” — meaning “intense”
- “Tan” — meaning “to stretch”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
Because of its root words, it is also sometimes called “Intense Side Stretch” or “Intense Flank Stretch.” This pose is sometimes confused with the similarly named Extended Side Angle Pose (Parsvakonasana), which also stretches the sides of the body. However, Parsvottanasana stretches both sides of the body equally and at the same time; Parsvakonasana stretches each side separately.
Parsvottanasana helps to prepare the body for seated forward folds, backbends, inversions, and twists. Some good follow-up poses include: Seated Staff Pose (Dandasana), Locust Pose (Salabhasana), and Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana).
Benefits of Parsvottanasana
This pose is particularly helpful in simultaneously stretching the hamstrings and shoulders. It builds balance and full body coordination, calms the mind, and improves postural habits. In addition, Parsvottanasana stretches the spine, chest, and hips. It is also known to be therapeutic for flat feet. This pose also stimulates the abdominal organs, which improves digestion.
The essence of yoga is equanimity.
Do not practice this pose if you have a hamstring injury. If you have a shoulder or wrist injury, do not practice the full version of the pose (do not reach your arms behind your body). Instead, practice with your arms forward with your hands resting on blocks or on the floor. Women who are pregnant and those with back injuries or high blood pressure should practice the pose against a wall (see Modifications & Variations, below). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat with your arms at your sides in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Turn to the left and step your feet 3 to 4 feet apart. Place your hands on your hips. Align your heels. Turn your right foot 90 degrees so the toes point to the top of the mat. Point your left toes at the top-left corner of your mat, turned about 60 degrees. In this “scissored” stance, your feet should be about hip-width apart.
- Keeping your feet in place, turn your entire torso to face the same direction as your front foot. Press your weight evenly through the outer edge of your back foot and the big toe of your front foot.
- Draw your left hip slightly forward, squaring your hips to the top of the mat. Draw your shoulder blades firmly into your back, but do not let your low ribs puff forward.
- Inhale as you reach your arms out to the sides. As you exhale, reach your arms behind your back. Clasp each elbow with the opposite hand. If your shoulders are more flexible, bring your hands into reverse prayer position, pressing your palms together and reaching your fingers toward your head.
- On an inhalation, elongate your torso. Exhaling, fold at the hips and extend your torso over your front leg. Keep your shoulders drawing back, but do not over-arch the low back. Maintain the length of your spine. Keep the crown of your head extending forward and your tailbone reaching behind you. Be sure to fold from the hip, not the waist.
- Ground down through the heel of your back foot. Gaze at your front big toe.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, press firmly through your back heel and slowly lift your torso. Release your arms and place your hands on your hips. Change the position of your feet, and repeat on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
Parsvottanasana can be a great way to lengthen your hamstrings and open your shoulders, counteracting years of habitual poor posture! Try these simple changes in the pose to find a variation that works for you:
- The full version of the pose is performed with the hands behind the back and the palms pressed together in prayer position (Anjali Mudra). If that option is not attainable for you yet, cross your arms behind your waist and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand. Fold the opposite arm on top when you change leg position.
- If you have a shoulder or wrist injury — or if you would just like to lighten the backward bending aspect of the pose — release your arms forward to the floor instead of reaching behind. Rest your hands on blocks if your hands don’t easily rest on the floor.
- If you are having trouble balancing, step your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart.
- For a deeper shoulder stretch, try this variation: From the full pose, release your hands and extend your arms behind you. Then, interlace your fingers behind your back. Exhaling, drape your torso over your front thigh and reach your clasped hands up and over the top of your head. Keep your arms straight as you do this variation.
- If your back heel lifts in this pose, practice with that heel pressed against a wall. You can also fold your yoga mat and press your heel into the cushioning, or place a firm, folded blanket beneath the heel.
- Some yoga traditions and teachers will instruct you to keep a flat back throughout the pose; others will tell you to drape your torso forward, dropping your head. Note that there is no right or wrong variation — but if you’re in a class, follow the instruction your teacher gives. He or she is instructing you that way for a reason!
- If you are pregnant, or if you have a back injury or high blood pressure, practice this pose against a wall. This variation is called Half Pyramid Pose or “Ardha Parsvottanasana” (in Sanskrit, “Ardha” means “half”). Perform steps 1, 2, and 3 as described above, a few feet away from the wall you are facing. Exhale as you lower your torso until it is parallel to the floor, while also extending your arms forward. Press your palms against the wall, with your fingers pointing upward. Your arms should be fully extended. Keep the front of your torso long.
Parsvottanasana will challenge your balance, serenity, and flexibility when practiced in correct alignment. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Keep your hips squared throughout the pose.
- Lengthen the front of your torso from your breast bone to your navel.
- Keep the crown of your head reaching forward as you simultaneously extend your tail bone behind you.
- Note that your feet are significantly closer together than they are in other standing poses, such as Warrior I or Triangle Pose. Take your time getting the correct foot placement. Then, as in every standing pose, work the pose from the ground up.
Unveil the Mystery of the Pyramid
The more you practice Pyramid Pose, the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to balance. Simultaneously forward bending and backward bending requires patience and a lot of concentration! But with dedication to your practice, you will strengthen your legs, lengthen your spine, and develop clarity and grace that endures.