I used to think yoga was just about stretching. Whether it was forward folds to open the hamstrings or trikonasana to stretch the side body or utthita parsvokanasa, for, I was never really quite sure but always figured it was so painful it had to be doing something!

But lately, since I’ve been doing more alignment based yoga, I’ve noticed something different in my practice.

It’ s not just about stretching, it’s about opening.

By opening, the muscles naturally loosen. But, it’s not just the muscles that get the benefit. The whole body expands and gets lighter and more open.

Take trikonasana (triangle pose). As someone with a chronically tight hip and psoas, this was always one of my favorites. All I could think about in this posture was stretching that muscle as much as possible. The sensation (translation: pain) felt so good!

But lately, I’ve approached the posture differently, and not only have I felt more open, but I feel like I’m getting the benefit in more than just the one part of my body. Instead, by opening and not stretching, it becomes a whole body move.

(for the sake of explaining this, I’ll focus on the right side)

To start with, as always make sure the feet are grounded through all corners, especially the big toe ball and energetically pull your feet toward each other.

Next, tuck the right hip under and try to stack the left hip on top. You’ll feel your torso instantly start to open toward the sky. Continue to open the ribcage toward by bringing the right side under the left side up and continue that motion as you pull the shoulders down your back behind your heart. You’re heart will just naturally expand and reach forward the more you do this.

Now, the arms. Depending on the style of yoga you practice, you’ll either reach the fingertips behind the calf (anusara/iyengar) or grasp the big toe with your peace fingers (ashtanga), or maybe even in front of the shin. Lately, I’m partial to using the forearm against the calf as an opposing motion to open the hips.

As you extend the right arm toward the ground, feel as if you’re reaching for a star. The motion should be equal in opposite directions. The goal is to feel the body opening even more by doing this. Don’t forget the shoulders. As I said above, make sure they’re staying out of your ears and are continuing to move down your back.

Finally, the crown of your head. It’s easy to forget about your head in this posture. I’ve found the more I think about my head, the more I really feel the benefits of this pose. While your chest is opening toward the sky, think about lengthening both side bodies by reaching the crown of the head toward the front of the room.

It’s a lot to think about, but I can speak from personal experience when I say looking at the posture as a heart opener and torso lengthener as opposed to just stretching the psoas has completely changed the experience. I think I need to go do it right now!