8/11/11 The Benefits of... Laterals

by Beth As yogis, we very aware of the front of our bodies because that is the part of us that we can see, and our awareness of the back of our bodies often comes from soreness or pain in our backs. Because it is rare that our daily life requires us to stretch the sides of our bodies, we often forget that we are actually three dimensional beings and our bodies have sides! The poses that stretch the sides of our bodies are called laterals.

When we stretch to the side, one side of our body becomes long and stretches while the other side contracts and therefore strengthens. Consequently, lateral poses are extrememly important for maintaining the health and flexibility of the spine and also for strengthening the muscles along our sides, including the obliques and intercostal muscles.

The following lateral pose can be performed anytime you feel tightness along the sides of your body or your back. Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with your feet hip width distance, your leg and abdominal muscles engaged, and your shoulder blades on your back. Take one full deep breath and bring your awareness to the sides of your body. On your next inhale, sweep your right arm up over your head. Exhale and bend to the left until you feel a stretch along the right side of your body. Extend out through your right fingertips. Enjoy a few breaths. Inhale back to standing and exhale release your arm. Repeat on the left side. Please note that lateral poses are not recommended for those with herniated discs or sacroiliac pain.