Asana, Philosophy

Fresh Take Friday: Supta Padangusthasana Part 1

Happy Friday! Today, we’re taking a fresh look at Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). This is a common pose done lying on the back. One leg is extended into the air, usually either with a strap around the foot or holding the big toe in the fingers. This is often thought of as a hamstring stretch for the leg that is in the air.

The pictures below depict some differences in how this pose might look (and feel) in two different bodies. While this is a pose that can appear in all levels and styles of classes, it is not always an easy or accessible pose for all bodies.

What’s the Intention?

A good question to ask when you approach a yoga pose is Why are you doing this pose? What is the intention?

Some possible answers that could come up for this pose are:

  • Because the teacher told me to do it
  • To stretch the hamstrings
  • To look like the woman on the left
  • To help the low back feel better
  • To calm the nervous system
  • To improve awareness of the body

There are, of course, many other possible answers – there may be more than one, and what comes up for you can influence how you approach this pose.

How does the pose feel?

A question that can always guide the inquiry that is our physical yoga practice is How does it feel? The yoga texts that we have tell us that asana – postural yoga – is just a small part of the yoga practices. Rather than being there for its own sake, the physical practice is an opportunity to practice the ethics, breathing, and meditation practices of yoga, and a road into a deeper connection with the truth of who we are. This means that whenever we do something a pose, we do it with a spirit of inquiry and awareness.

Some of the things we might keep in mind while noticing how the pose feels are:

  • Ahimsa – non-harming. Are you doing the pose with kindness and care?
  • Satya – honesty. Are you present with and responsive to the reality of how the pose feels? Are you being honest about what your body is asking of you in the pose?
  • Aparigraha – non-grasping or non-greed. Are you doing the pose from a place of craving or grasping? Are you trying to do more than your body is asking you to do?
  • Santosha – contentment. Can you do the pose in a way that is joyful and calm?
  • Sthira and Sukha – steadiness and ease. Does the pose feel steady and grounded? Does the work you are doing there embody a sense of ease?

These are just a few of the things that we can consider as we observe our own experience in the pose (svadhyaya, self study).

Four things to do besides stretch your hamstrings

There’s nothing wrong with stretching your hamstrings if it feels good, especially when we keep the principles of yoga in mind.

And stretching the hamstrings might not be the right thing to do in Supta Padangusthasana for all sorts of reasons. Maybe it triggers your competitive nature and sends you to a place of ego and comparison. Maybe it aggravates an injury. Maybe it creates a lot of tension or interferes with your breathing.

Even if stretching your hamstrings feels fantastic, introducing more variety into your practice is so good for the body and mind. It breaks us out of our habitual patterns. It gives our tissues different kinds of input. And sometimes it can help us gain new insights.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll go over four things you can do in Supta Padangusthasana besides stretching your hamstrings. Here’s the first one:

1. Figure out the set-up that gives you the most ease.

Start lying on your back with the knees bent and the feet planted on the floor. Is that comfortable? You can try adding a pillow under the head if you like. If you need more help getting comfortable or adapting the pose for your needs, please comment below or contact me, and I’ll be happy to troubleshoot with you.

Then try the following explorations, choosing the one that gives you the most ease.

  • Try adjusting your feet closer or farther from your sit bones. Notice what happens in your buttocks, hip creases, belly, etc. as you change the position of the feet. Where do you have the most ease?
  • Experiment with how wide the feet are from each other. What feels stable and comfortable?
  • Bring the right leg towards your belly. Does it feel better to hug it all the way in, or to have some space between the leg and the belly? Does it feel better to bring it straight in or slightly wide? Does it feel better to support with the hands, behind the thigh or over the shin?
  • Holding the right leg in, try extending the left leg on the earth. More or less ease?
  • Strap the right foot and extend it up towards the ceiling. Do you like holding the strap with one hand or two? Elbows straight or bent? Can you settle the heads of the arm bones onto the earth? Do you like using the strap at all? What do you notice happening in your head and neck, shoulders, hands, back, and belly as you come into this part of the pose? Where do you have the most ease?
  • Check in again to see if you like having the left leg extended or bent.
  • Explore small, slow movements in the right hip, knee, and ankle. How much bend feels best in these joints? Does the position affect sensation in the belly, back, leg, or elsewhere? Where can you hang out most comfortably?
  • Check in with the sensation in the back of the right leg. Is it intense? Are you pushing into the pose as far as you can stand? Are you yanking on the foot with the strap? Can you soften anywhere? Can you change anything about the pose to invite ease in?

When you do this inquiry, here are some of the ways your pose might look at the end:

There are, of course, many other options.

Looking for other work to do in Supta Padangusthasana? I’ll be posting three more ways to work in this pose in the coming weeks. Use the buttons below to subscribe to the blog, or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

The information, instruction, and advice contained in this post are in no way intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.

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