Gate Pose is a side bend that stretches the entire side body and is suitable for students of all levels. The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Parighasana" (pahr-eee-GAHS-uh-nuh), comes from the word "parigha," which refers to a bar or beam that is used to lock a gate. In the full version of the pose, your body mimics the look of a locked gate.
This pose is a good preparatory position for standing, side-stretching poses, like Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana). It is also an excellent preparatory pose for the advanced twist, Revolved Head-of-Knee Pose (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana), and for the arm balance, Visvamitra's Pose (Visvamitrasana).
Benefits of Gate Pose
Gate Pose stretches the side of the torso from the hips to the armpits, including the abdominal muscles, spine, and hamstrings. It opens the shoulders, and helps to reduce neck and shoulder tension. Gate Pose creates space for the abdominal organs, and also stretches the stomach and spleen (when the right arm is overhead).
One beauty of yoga, which means "union," is that it diminishes an emphasis on one part of the body and asks us to spread our interest and respect everywhere.
This pose also stretches the intercostal muscles, which are the muscles that connect the ribs. It is common for these muscles to get short and tight from poor posture and sitting for extended periods of time. When these muscles are tight, they restrict the movement of the ribcage and the lungs, which can result in poor breathing habits. Stretching the intercostals will help to improve your breathing capacity, which benefits everyday breathing. It will also help to relieve respiratory troubles, such as asthma, allergies, and colds.
Gate Pose is also a beneficial pose for women who are pregnant. It lengthens the sides of the belly, which relieves discomfort by creating more room for the internal organs as well as for the growing baby.
Do not practice Gate Pose if you have a current or recent knee injury. If you have any knee concerns (outside of direct pain), only perform this pose under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. Those with neck injuries should not turn their heads to face upward (in step 4), but should continue looking straight ahead. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin kneeling on the floor with your hips and buttocks lifted up off your legs. Place a folded blanket beneath your knees, shins, and feet if you need the extra padding to feel more comfortable. Your inner knees should be together and your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Extend your right leg out to the side. Keep your leg in line with your body, not behind or in front of you. Point your toes to the right with your kneecap pointing to the ceiling. Try to press the sole of your right foot’s sole all the way onto the floor while keeping your leg straight. Your pelvis will turn slightly to the right. Keep your upper torso turning against that pull to face forward.
- Inhaling, extend your arms out to the sides to shoulder-height with your palms facing down.
- Rest your right hand along your right thigh, shin, or ankle. Turn your left palm upward, and then extend it up toward the ceiling. Then reach your left arm overhead and to the right, so your bicep rests against your left ear. Turn your gaze up toward the ceiling.
- Keep moving your left hip slightly forward and turning your torso away from the floor.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, inhale as you lift through your left arm to draw your torso upright, while keeping both arms extended. Then lower your arms and move your right knee next to your left to regain balance. Repeat the pose for the same amount of time on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
Practicing Gate Pose can be a great way to counteract a long day of sitting, or to prepare your body for other activities. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works best for you:
- If you can't press the foot of your extended leg flat on the floor, press your foot against a wall.
If you feel unsteady in the pose or if you have a knee injury, practice the pose while seated in a chair:
- Sit with your legs in front of you with your knees bent, so your legs sit at right angles with your feet on the floor.
- Extend your right leg out to the side.
- Perform steps 3 and 4 as directed in the Instructions, above. Then come back to center and repeat on the opposite side.
More experienced students can work toward the full variation of the pose, which is a deep side bend:
- Perform steps 1-4 as directed in the Instructions, above.
- Bend all the way over to the right and turn your right palm up.
- Rest the right side of the torso along the top of your extended (right) leg. Press the back of your right hand on the top of your right foot.
- Reach the left arm all the way overhead and press both palms together.
- Come back to center and repeat on the opposite side.
Gate Pose will open the sides of your torso, helping to create symmetry throughout your whole body. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Keep your extended leg straight and your torso aligned with your thigh.
- Only bend as far down as your flexibility permits. Even if that is just an inch or two, you will still gain the benefits of the pose!
- Do not rest your lower hand directly on your knee. Doing so creates too much pressure on the knee joint.
- Practice Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) before and after the pose to help relax and stretch your intercostal muscles even further. Notice the difference in your breathing capacity before and after the stretch!
- Keep your torso open and lifting. Do not let your chest or shoulders drop forward.
Open the Gate
Practicing Gate Pose will bring awareness and flexibility to the often-neglected sides of your body. It can be a building block for deeper side stretches and better breathing habits. Adding Gate Pose to your regular practice will help improve your posture, grace, and range of motion in everyday life.