Muscular imbalances that can create a rounded posture are often the result of overdeveloping the chest and abdominal areas. People tend to focus on these areas because they are in the front of the body and that is what you see in the mirror. As a result, the side of the body is often neglected.
Even the back of the body tends to get more attention that the side. Most of us experience back pain from time to time so we have that awareness. We can feel the back stretching when we do forward bends, just as we can feel the front of the body stretching in a back bend.
However, in Parighasana (Gate Pose), the side of the body is the focus. This intense lateral stretch is named for its shape, which resembles a bar used for shutting a gate. Since this pose allows a full expansion of the lungs because it opens the side ribs, it is a gateway to improved breathing. It helps to tone the waist due to the stretch of the abdominal obliques and can help provide stability for the lower back by stretching muscles deep in the back of the waist. This can be extremely beneficial if you have a stiff back and can help prevent and/or ease lower back pain.
Parighasana is excellent preparation for Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose) and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) due to the fact that it opens the hips and creates length in the sides. It also can transform your breathing because you can now become aware of and feel the breath in the side of your body.
This pose also provides a great stretch for the intercoastal muscles which are located between the ribs. These muscles are often neglected and tight, leading to postural problems. The rib cage expands when the intercoastals are stretched, leading to enhanced respiration. Hence, relief from asthma, allergies and colds can be realized through the practice of this pose.
A simple awareness exercise is an excellent preparation for Parighanasana. Place your hands on your rib cage as tight to the sides of your body as you can while lying on the floor with your knees bent. Become aware of the flow of breath under your hands. Close your eyes. Feel your ribcage expand outwards when you inhale. Feel your ribs fall inwards when you exhale. Stay here for several breaths, focusing on the expansion and release of the side ribs.
With a blanket nearby, place your mat near a wall. Perform a few rounds of Cat and Cow to warm up your spine. Inhale into Cow and then exhale and arch your back up into the Cat position. Next, limber up your body by moving from Child’s Pose to Downward Facing Dog, synchronizing your breath with the movements. After a few rounds of this, rest in Child’s Pose.
Kneel on the folded blanket with your knees hip-width apart. Thighs are parallel and perpendicular to the floor and hips are directly over your knees. The lower abdomen is brought in and up as the tailbone is released down. With toes spread, press the tops of your feet, toes and shins into the blanket. Lengthen up along the spine through the top of your head upon inhaling. Upon exhaling, establish a firm foundation through the lower legs and knees.
Keep your right knee and the top of your right thigh facing upward as you extend your right leg out to the right, keeping it in line with your upper body. Try to flatten your right foot to the floor and press it down as you bring your right leg back toward your body. Keep your left thigh straight up and down and keep pressing your left foot, toes, knee and shin into the blanket.
Breathe in and extend your arms out to the sides, palms down. Keep the length in your spine as you stretch your hands away from each other. Bring the right hand to your right hip. Press the fleshy area of your right hand between the thumb and index finger into the crease where your leg joins your upper body. Lengthen the lower back by drawing the navel in towards the spine. Keep your gaze soft and forward.
Breathe out as you hinge at the hip and bend your upper body over your right leg. Reach your right hand out over the right leg and rest it wherever it lands comfortably (the thigh, shin, knee, or foot). Reach the left arm up alongside the ear with palm in. As you breathe in slowly and deeply, feel the ribcage expand in all directions. Take several slow, deep breaths. Lengthen your spine with each inhalation and let yourself go deeper with each exhalation.
Press the right hand into the right leg when you have gone as for as you can into the side stretch. Keeping your pelvis in place, rotate from the base of your spine. Keep your gaze in front of your left arm to the sky. Twist your abdomen first and then extend evenly up the spine to the crown. Feel your intercoastal muscles expand as you breathe into your left ribcage.
Rest in Child’s Pose before repeating on the other side. Parighasana may feel very different on each side. Remember to challenge yourself without straining. Incorporating this asana into a vinyasa on a regular basis will promote balance.