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Supine Side Bends - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Supine Side Bends Potential Problem Areas Image

            · Shoulder Joints

            · Chest/Breathing

            · Lumbar Spine


Shoulder Joints

Some people find that lifting the arm into the overhead position is uncomfortable, or indeed impossible – cf. “frozen”-shoulder type issues. If this is the case, the arm can be left by one’s side or swung along the floor to a position as far towards the overhead position as feels comfortable.


In side bends in general, one side of the chest is held in a very open, expanded form while the other side is squeezed into a closed and contracted form. The net effect is that breathing via the expansion and contraction of the rib-cage is very restricted. This is not normally a problem but those who are used to primarily breathing via the expansion and contraction of the rib-cage (rather than “abdominally”) may well find the experience uncomfortable or even distressing - although it is very unlikely to do any physical harm. Two advantages of supine side bends (over upright ones) is that it is much easier to control the degree of sideways bending and, once in the pose, it is possible to relax completely. Hence, they are excellent for getting used to, and becoming comfortable with, the chest being held relatively rigid. If one does experience some discomfort with regard to breathing then one should simply go a little less far into the side-bend. The degree of side bend with which one feels comfortable will increase with practice.

Lumbar Spine

Side bends are often said to be a bad idea for those with lower back problems. The reason for this is that most of the side bending of the trunk occurs in the lumbar region, with one side of the spinal discs of this area being squeezed/compressed, potentially to a high degree – this is not usually a problem but it can be if the spinal alignment is poor or there is a high degree of damage to the spinal discs. However, supine side bends are a particularly safe way to practise side bends for several reasons as follows:- Hence, practising supine side bends, so long as one takes care not to move into discomfort, should be OK even for those with significant lower-back problems.

However, if one does have a lot of lumbar lordosis (concave lower back) then one needs to take extra care of the positioning of the lower back or one is very likely to feel discomfort there. This is a particular issue if the legs are straight along the floor as the ilio-psoas muscles (which attach to both the front of the lumbar spine, the top front of the pelvic girdle and to the top of the femur) will tend to pull the lumbar spine off the floor and thus put the back of the lumbar discs into compression before one moves into the side bend. So, if one finds it difficult to keep the lower back down close to, if not against the floor, then it is best to practise with one or both legs bent to enable and encourage the lower back to be long and close to the floor.


Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

In the later stages of pregnancy, one of the issues that needs to be borne in mind is that the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and the aorta (main artery). This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs. It is thus unwise to lie on one’s back for more than a very short period - with risks of discomfort, tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. With regard to side bends this means that supine versions (where one is lying on one’s back) are not a good idea.