Side Lunge (Skandasana)

A Common Hip-Opening Yoga Pose

Focused woman stretching leg at gym studio mirror
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When you're looking for a great hip-opening pose, turn to the side lunge (skandasana). This is a common yoga pose that stretches your hips and hamstrings and helps build your core strength.

It's a relatively simple lunge, making it perfect for beginners and regular practice. Advanced students will also enjoy some challenging variations.

Side Lunge Is Just One Pose Named Skandasana

The skandasana we are looking at here is a deep side lunge.

It is not the only yoga pose that goes by that name, however.

In "Light on Yoga," B.K.S. Iyengar demonstrates a very different pose that is also called skandasana. This is a seated forward bend with one foot hooked behind your head. A standing version of this same pose (forward bend with the foot behind the head) is included in Ashtanga yoga's challenging third series. In this, it was apparently also called skandasana by Pattabhi Jois.

Those two poses have enough in common to be considered variations from a common origin. However, the side lunge version is pretty different. It's probable that it just happens to have been named for the same Hindu war god, Skanda.

Though it can be confusing, it's not all that unusual for multiple yoga poses to have the same name or for poses to have several different names. Much of this is due to the divergent ways that yoga asana practice has developed. 

Instructions for Side Lunge

This version of skandasana was popularized by Shiva Rea in her trance-dance flow sequences.

Type of Pose: Standing, Hip Opener

Benefits: Improves balance and core strength, stretches the hamstrings and hips

  1. Begin in prasarita padottanasana, a wide-legged forward bend.
  2. Bend your left knee into a half-squat. Keep your right leg straight and flex your foot so that your toes leave the floor so you are resting on the right heel.
  1. There are a lot of options for arm variations. Keep your hands on the floor if you need them for balance. Otherwise, try bending your elbows and bring your hands into Anjali mudra with the left elbow inside the left knee in a kind of half malasana.
  2. Drop your hands to the floor for support and shift to the other side.

Tips for Beginners

  • Stay up on the ball of your left foot if you can't comfortably get into a full squat. You can also try placing a rolled-up blanket under your heel for support.
  • Practicing malasana will help you get used to squatting.

Tips for Advanced Yoga Practice

There are a lot of ways to incorporate this pose into a flow that will work your core strength. For instance, try stepping back and forth to skandasana from mountain pose at the front of your mat without using your hands on the floor.

Once you can comfortably lift your hands from the floor as described in step 3 above, you can start working towards a bind with the arms.

  1. Wrap your left arm in front of your left shin and bend your elbow to bring your left hand behind your back.
  2. Reach your right hand back to bind with the left one.
  3. Turn your chest to the right and open your heart toward the ceiling.

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