Fresh Take Friday: Supta Padangusthasana Part 3

Happy Friday! Today we’re continuing our look at Supta Padangusthasana, or Reclined Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose. If you missed the previous articles in this series, you can catch up on those here: Part 1, Part 2. While this is a pose we often think of as a hamstring stretch, there are a lot of other things you can explore in this shape. Having more options is always helpful!

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.

In this series, I’m discussing four things you can do in Supta Padangusthasana besides stretching your hamstrings. The first was figure out the set-up that gives you the most ease. The second was explore the movement of the leg bone in the hip socket. Here’s another exploration you can try in this pose:

2. Work your hip flexors.

Hip flexion is the movement we do when we lift a leg in front of us, bringing the thigh bone closer to the belly. Bertha, my model pelvis, is demonstrating that movement in the image below. Her legs (although cut off mid-thigh – poor Bertha!) are making the shape for Supta Padangusthasa here.

Bertha the Pelvis demonstrates hip flexion

The main muscles that do this action are commonly known as the hip flexors. They attach to the top of the thigh bone, run through the pelvis, and then attach to the spine in the low back. This is a group of muscles that we hear a lot about stretching and not a lot about strengthening. The hip flexors help with pelvic stability and positioning, so it’s useful to have strong and functional hip flexors.

The psoas or hip flexor muscles that are responsible for hip flexion

While your hip flexors are probably contracting to bring the lifted leg into position for Supta Padangusthasana, you may not be doing a lot to develop more strength in these muscles. There are a lot of ways we can adapt this pose to build in more work for the hip flexors – here are a few ideas. Before you begin, use the adjustments you learned in Part 1 of this series to set up for the pose in the way that gives you the most ease. For all of these variations, you should not feel any pain or increase in other symptoms during or after these movements. If discomfort occurs, discontinue and seek assistance.

Slowly lower with control

  • When you lower your lifted leg to the earth, you use your hip flexors as brakes to slow down the movement. Your hip flexors are contracting eccentrically (while they are lengthening).
  • Slow the movement down and pay attention to what is happening as you lower the leg. Try to keep the pelvis still and the breath easy, with no pain or gripping anywhere. Notice if you have a tendency to brace yourself with the opposite leg.
  • To make this easier, bend the lifted leg knee.

Hold actively

  • Keep the pelvis still and stable as you bring the right leg up into the pose. The right knee can be straight or bent.
  • When you can’t bring the leg up more without letting the pelvis shift, hold the leg in place for several breaths, using your hip flexors rather than the strap. If you used a strap to come into the pose, you can release the strap or just hold it lightly.
  • Continue to draw the leg towards you gently without letting the pelvis shift. Breathe easily; no gripping or tension anywhere.

Press into your hand or a block

  • Start with your knees bent, feet on the floor about hip width apart and a comfortable distance from the sit bones. Bring the bent right knee in towards the chest.
  • Place your right hand on the right thigh and press the thigh into the hand, resisting with your right arm. If it works better for you, you can hold a block in the right hand and press into the block.
  • If you like, you can play with straightening the right leg any amount while maintaining the work in the front of the hip.
  • Keep a sense of ease as you are working: easy breath, no pain, gripping, or tension anywhere, just hip flexors working.

Squeeze something between your thigh and your belly

  • As you bring the right knee towards the chest, keep it bent and place an object between the thigh and the belly. This could be a block, a folded blanket, or a cushion.
  • Squeeze the object with your thigh bone, maintaining a sense of quiet and ease throughout the rest of the body.
  • Maintaining your hold on the object with the right leg, play with straightening the right leg any amount. Find a place where you can sustain the work for a few breaths without pain, breath holding, or tension creeping in.

Use a resistance band

  • Use a resistance band loop or tie the ends of a band together. Place the loop around the ankles. Depending on the positioning you use for this pose, it might work better for some to make loops in the ends of the band to place around the feet.
  • As you bring the right leg up into the pose, the band will provide some resistance. Don’t worry about how far you come in. Find a place where you can work with ease and hold for a few breaths.
  • You can also move in and out of the pose slowly several times, feeling how you have to resist the pull of the band to slowly release.
  • Adjust the difficulty by adjusting the level of the resistance band.

Which way was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for other work to do in Supta Padangusthasana? I’ll be posting about one more ways to work in this pose next week. 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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