A 20-Minute Yoga Practice for Side Stretching

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Sometimes you want to practice yoga in a way that’s more creatively challenging than usual. Other times you need a yoga practice that stretches your body in ways that are tricky to target. The following 20-minute yoga practice blissfully addresses both your wants and needs through a mix of core strengthening and bending that targets a side stretch your oft-neglected obliques and IT bands.

Side stretches target many things, including your external obliques (left) and internal obliques. (Illustrations: Sebastian Kaulitzki Science Photo Library | Getty)

By incorporating some unexpected side bending, or lateral flexion, into common poses that don’t typically move in that plane, you’re able to strengthen and stretch the body in unexpected and challenging ways.

20-Minute Yoga Practice for a Side Stretch

The following practice incorporates side stretches in some uncommon ways to maximize your time on the mat and ensure you’re prepared for the poses that follow. Expect to try Tree Pose in Side Plank and practice hand-to-foot grabs early in your 20-minute yoga practice prior to attempting a challenging expression of Half Moon Pose.

Yoga With Kassandra practicing Savasana at the beginning of a 20-minute yoga practice
Yes, Savasana at the start of your practice. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Opening Savasana

Begin lying on your back with your legs straight and relaxed. Place your palms on the lower part of your abdomen to create a connection with your breath. Slow your inhalations and your exhalations.

Yoga With Kassandra lying on her back on a yoga mat during a 20-minute yoga practice
A familiar shape, Constructive Rest or Fallen Bridge can be incorporated anywhere in your practice. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Constructive Rest

From Savasana, bend your knees and bring your feet slightly wider than your hips, letting your knees fall toward one another if that’s comfortable for you. Allow your gaze to soften or close your eyes and aim for a count of 4 or 5 with each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on lifting the space underneath your hands as you inhale and allow it to softly lower as you exhale. Ensure your lower back presses into the mat and your shoulders draw away from your ears.

Yoga With Kassandra practicing a reclined twist on her back on a yoga mat
Reclined twists can take many shapes and can be sequenced before and after more challenging twists. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Reclined Twist

Extend your left leg straight and draw your right knee toward your chest. Take an easy twist by guiding your right knee across your body. Rest your left hand on your right thigh and extend your right arm straight out from your shoulder, relaxing your right shoulder. If you like, bend your right elbow to make a cactus shape. Feel the stretch across your right rib cage, outer hip, and lower back. Breathe here.

Return to center and switch sides, bringing your left knee toward your chest and repeating the twist.

Yoga With Kassandra practicing crunches with an added side stretch while doing a 20-minute yoga practice outside
Practicing different muscle engagement at the same time prepares you for more challenging poses that ask you to coordinate your efforts. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Straight-Leg Twisted Crunch

From your reclined twist, straighten your legs and lift them toward the sky. Interlace your fingers behind your head. As you inhale, lift your shoulders off the mat. As you exhale, lower your left leg while twisting your chest toward the right. If you want, you can reach your left arm outside your right thigh. Inhale as you lift your left leg again and come back to center. Exhale as you repeat on the other side. Focus on maintaining a steady breath throughout the movement. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Yoga With Kassandra lying on a yoga mat outside practicing a twisted version of a crunch
(Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

 Twisted Crunch

While still lying on your back, continue with the core engagement by bending your right knee and drawing it toward your chest as you point your toes forward. With your fingers still interlaced behind your head, inhale as you lift your shoulders off the mat. As you exhale, twist your torso and bring your left elbow toward your right knee. Inhale as you come back to the center and repeat on the other side. Repeat for 5 rounds on each side, keeping a controlled and rhythmic pace, emphasizing the engagement of your core.

Yoga With Kassandra practices a seated side bend with her legs crossed and her left arm alongside her ear in a 20-minute yoga video
Some moves never go out of style for a reason. They work.  (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Seated Side Stretch

Come to a seated position. Straighten through your spine and reach your arms alongside your head. Release your right hand to the mat a foot or so away from you right hip and extend your left arm up and overhead, feeling a stretch along your left side. Stay here and breathe. Repeat on the other side.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch and twist during a 20 minute yoga class
Listen to your body during twists and initiate the movement from your mid to upper back. Do not force it.(Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Seated Twist

Sitting tall, twist toward the right, place your left hand on the outside of the right knee, and reach your right arm behind you. Engage your core, ensuring your spine stays long. Switch sides and repeat, maintaining a smooth and deliberate twist.

Yoga With Kassandra doing Cat Cow with a side stretch outside on a mat during a 20 minute yoga class
Yes, side bending in Cat Cow (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Cat and Cow With a Side Stretch

Make your way to hands and knees and move into Cat and Cow, adding a side variation by bringing your left shoulder and left knee toward each other on the inhale, and then the right shoulder toward the right hip on the exhale. Take your time as you repeat. Continue with the classic cat and cow sequence, focusing on the flow of your breath and ensuring a fluid movement through the spine.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch during a 20 minute yoga class
Almost any pose can become a side stretch. Simply bring elements of more challenging balancing poses into more supported poses. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Tabletop With a Reach

From Tabletop, shift your weight into your right hand and lift your right leg as you reach for your right ankle with your left hand. Lift your leg higher, pressing the foot away from you into your hand. Feel a gentle arch in your back. Release and switch sides, maintaining a steady breath throughout.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing Down Dog with a side stretch during a 20 minute yoga class
Next time you bend your knee and drop your foot behind you in Down Dog, reach for your heel with your opposite hand. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Down Dog With a Side Stretch

From hands and knees, tuck your toes and lift your hips into Downward-Facing Dog. Pause here as you breathe and lengthen along your back body. Then lift your right leg toward the sky. Bend your right knee and reach your toes toward the left side of your mat. Option to shift your weight into your right hand and reach your left hand back to grab your right ankle, adding an extra stretch to the side body. Focus on a stable and aligned pose with your hips in line with one another. Release back to Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a low lunge with a twist
Any pose can become a side stretch when you think creatively. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Low Lunge With Reaching Back

From Down Dog, step your right foot a few inches behind your right palm in a Low Lunge with your back knee lifted. Twist your entire body toward the right as you roll onto the outer edge of both feet to face the long side of the mat. Reach your right arm overhead and toward the back of the mat. Inhale as you lift your hips away from the mat and exhale as you lower them toward the mat, feeling the stretch along your left hip. Repeat a few times, engaging your core to help with stability.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch in Side Plank during a 20 minute yoga class
Including the same shape as Tree Pose brings a hip-opening element to the side stretch and core strengthener. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Side Plank Tree Pose Variation

From your twisting lunge, straighten your bottom leg and make your way to Side Plank. Bring your right foot to your inner left thigh in a Tree Pose variation and bring your right arm overhead.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing Wild Thing during a 20 minute yoga class
When you step back from Side Plank into Wild Thing, as soon as your foot finds the floor you want to press into it and lift your hips. This intensifies the side stretch. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Wild Thing

From Side Plank, lift your hips higher as you lower your right foot behind you and transition into Wild Thing. Lift your hips and chest toward the sky and allow your neck to relax. Feel a deep stretch through the side body as you breathe here. Return to Side Plank with control before transitioning into Plank Pose and then Downward-Facing Dog.

Repeat the sequence on your other side, beginning with Scorpion Dog and ending with Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a standing forward bend during a 20 minute yoga class
Ah, the familiar and soothing sway in a standing forward fold. Don’t forget to relax your neck and unclench your jaw. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Standing Forward Bend With a Sway

From Downward-Facing Dog, walk yourself to the top of the mat and come into a Standing Forward Bend with your knees slightly bent. Hold opposite elbows, relax your neck, and gently sway from side to side. Come back to center and slowly bring yourself to a standing position in Mountain Pose, hands at your side. Pause here for a free breaths.

From Mountain, take yourself through a vinyasa by exhaling as you move into Plank Pose and lower yourself to Chaturanga, then inhaling as you come into Upward-Facing Dog, and exhaling as you shift your hips up and back into Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch during reverse warrior pose.
The challenge is to keep the front knee static as you lean back into the side stretch. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Reverse or Peaceful Warrior

From Down Dog, lift your right leg and step it forward. Spin your back heel down and inhale into Warrior 2. Transition into a Reverse or Peaceful Warrior by releasing your left hand along your left leg and reaching your right arm overhead. Feel the stretch along the left side of your body. Return to Warrior 2.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch during Triangle Pose.
The transition from Reverse Warrior to Triangle fluidly shifts the stretch from one side to the other. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Triangle Pose

From Warrior 2, straighten your right leg and hinge at your hips as you reach your right hand to the ground or a block. Bring your right arm overhead, fingertips reaching toward the top of the mat and lengthen through the left side of your body in Triangle Pose. Keep your tailbone reaching downward and maintain a slight bend in your right leg.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch during Half Moon Pose in a 20 minute yoga class
It’s easy to collapse into your lower side as you steady your balance, but try to lengthen through your bottom side boy as well as your top. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Half Moon Pose

From Triangle Pose, transition into Half Moon Pose by shifting your weight into your front foot and lifting your left leg. Engage your glutes and hamstrings and reach your left arm upward.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing a side stretch during Half Moon Pose
This is the same side stretch as when you reached behind you in Tabletop. Just different relationship to gravity. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Half Moon Pose With a Bind or Sugarcane Pose

Move into Sugarcane Pose by bending your lifted knee and reaching your left arm behind your back and grabbing the ankle. Lift your chest as you stay here and breathe.

Release with control and come back to Half Moon Pose, then step back into Warrior 2 followed by Reverse Warrior, and then exhale as you come back to Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga With Kassandra seated cross-legged outside on a mat practicing Side Plank during a 20 minute yoga class
Lift your top leg a little or a lot for additional challenge when steadying yourself and strengthening your core. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Side Plank Variation

From Downward-Facing Dog, shift your shoulders forward over your wrists and stack your right leg over your left as you come back into Side Plank Pose. If you like, float your right leg for an extra challenge. As you did earlier when releasing Wild Thing, transition into Plank and take a flow before you return to Downward-Facing Dog.

Repeat your flow on the second side, beginning with Reverse or Peaceful Warrior.

Yoga With Kassandra practices half split on a mat while outside
As you stretch your back body, lift and lengthen through your back as you inhale, then release as you exhale. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Half Splits

From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward, lower your left knee, and start to straighten your right leg as you come into Half Splits. Flex your right foot and square your hips toward the front of the mat. Breathe here. Then release into Plank Pose.

Yoga With Kassandra practices a forearm side plank on a mat outside with her right hand on her right hip
Stack one hip on top of the other and press down through your grounded forearm to help steady yourself. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Forearm Side Plank Dips

From Plank, transition into Forearm Plank on your left side, engaging your core for stability. As you exhale, dip your hips toward the mat. As you inhale, lift them. Then transition between these movements. Return to Plank and lift your hips into Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga With Kassandra in a reclined twist on her yoga mat outdoors
Your stretch has greater effect when you breathe into it rather than force your body into it. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Reclined Spinal Twist

From Down Dog, lower your knees to the mat and sit back into Child’s Pose. Breathe here. Then transition onto your back and draw your knees into your chest. Bring your arms straight out to the sides and gently guide both knees over to the right in a twist, releasing your left shoulder toward the mat. Take your time as you breathe here. Switch sides.

Yoga With Kassandra lies on a yoga mat in a side stretch known as Crescent Moon or Banana
Try to let your shoulders release and settle onto the mat. Don’t forget to slow your breath. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Crescent Moon Stretch

From your twist, continue to lie on your back and straighten your legs. Shift your hips slightly to the left. Cross your left ankle over the right and extend your arms overhead, grabbing opposite elbows. Create a crescent or banana shape with your body by shimmying your upper body and then your lower boy toward the right, lengthening along your left side. Gently hold onto opposite elbows. To intensify the stretch, cross your left ankle over your right. Stay here for 10 to 12 breaths. Return to center and switch sides.

Yoga With Kassandra practicing Savasana at the beginning of a 20-minute yoga practice
Release an audible exhalation as you release your need to do anything. (Photo: Yoga With Kassandra)

Savasana

Come into Savasana and allow your feet to fall outward and your arms to rest at your sides. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath and to any bodily sensations. Savasana is a final relaxation pose, offering a moment of stillness and integration, allowing the benefits of the practice to settle in.

About Our Contributor

Kassandra Reinhardt is an Ottawa-based Yin Yoga and vinyasa yoga instructor whose YouTube channel, Yoga With Kassandra, has grown to 2.2 million subscribers and has more than 230 million views. Kassandra recently released her guided yoga journal, My Yoga Journey: A Guided Journal, her daily affirmation card deck, I Radiate Joy,and her book, Year of Yoga.

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