The standing side bend pose is a foundational yoga pose that helps stretch the muscles of the side body while helping to stretch and tone the muscles that support your spine.
This is usually done at the beginning of your practice to prepare your body for other more difficult poses.
If you plan to work your core muscles in your yoga sequence, the Standing Side Bend pose is a staple in your routine, and if you’re a beginner, it will help build a strong foundation for an overall healthy yoga practice.
Standing Lateral Bend: Step-by-Step Instructions
We spoke with 200-RYT yoga teacher Ali Jehn about the steps to getting into the pose. Get ready to feel a lot more mobility in your spine when the standing side bend posture is part of your daily yoga routine.
- Stand up straight and place your feet and legs together. Relax your shoulder away from your ears and look forward.
- Reach both arms overhead and interlace your fingers while keeping your index fingers stretched and pointing toward the ceiling; this grip is known as the steeple grip in yoga.
- Line up your biceps with your ears.
- Squeeze your inner thighs and activate your core for balance.
- Inhale and gently bend your body to the right as you exhale. Lie back from your left hips through your ribs. Pull your left arm to the right side of the room.
- Keep your heart engaged. You might feel a little tremor in your heart. Work to stay engaged and take deep breaths, but if it’s too much, don’t hesitate to back off.
- Focus on lifting and passing, rather than just leaning sideways. Compress (decrease the space between your shoulder and hip) your right side by lengthening your left side.
- Inhale to return to center. Exhale and repeat on the other side.
How to facilitate standing side bends
If you have trouble balancing or keeping your feet together, place your feet about hip-width apart. Jehn recommends keeping your feet together to further activate your abdominal muscles, as you work harder to balance yourself.
Another considerable modification is to hold your hands in the center of the heart (in prayer) to protect your shoulders from pain.
How to Make Standing Side Bends More Difficult
For a challenge, add weight for a standing dumbbell side bend. Use less weight to begin with and start with your feet in a wider stance for more balance.
- Hold the dumbbells against your chest. Lean to the right (always keep your weights on your chest) as you would in an unweighted standing side bend pose.
- Hold for a beat, then return to the center to repeat on the other side.
- Avoid holding the weight above your head to protect your shoulder joints and muscles.
What are the benefits of standing side bends?
Similar to the mountain pose, the standing side bend pose is a gentle movement that engages both your spinal erectors, as well as your oblique abs.
The pose offers many opportunities to tune your breath (which is fundamental in any yoga class).
Think of this pose as a foundational stretch that strengthens your lower core muscles. Standing Side Bend Pose is also great for the health of your spine.
“Side bends are amazing for the human body because our spine can move in so many different directions,” says Jehn. “We tend to limit it to up-and-down or back-and-forth motions, so by incorporating side-to-side bends, you’ll promote the longevity of your spinal health.”
Here’s what’s happening to your body during this stretch:
- Promotes better posture. The standing side bend opens your upper body with a hip-to-shoulder stretch. When you stretch from your hips to your shoulders, you’re stretching your intercostal muscles (the muscles between your ribs) and toning your spinal muscles to better protect your spine. “You train the muscles around your spine to get stronger in every way,” says Jehn.
- Strengthens your middle and lower core. Your abdominals and erector spinae muscles engage to help balance you as you bend to the side. “The largest part of the body that the standing side bend should target is the [lower to mid-core]says John.