Supine Big Toe Pose or Supta Padangusthasana ( it’s a mouthful in every language), is a very useful warmer upper for most classes. It releases the spine, the hips and the hamstrings, stretches and tones the legs, eases stiffness in the lower back and boosts circulation to the lower body. It is actually a series of stretches in which the big toe is held by the thumb and fore or middle finger. For the beginner, however, this is usually too much of an ask, so use a yoga belt, scarf or man’s tie to hold the foot instead.

To practice Supine Big Toe Pose:

  • Make a loop in your belt/scarf/tie and slip it over your right foot.
  • Lie on your mat with both legs extended. If your neck shortens when you lie down ( your chin will be jutting up towards the ceiling), place a folded blanket under your head so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin.
  • Bring your right knee in towards your chest, clasping both hands just below the knee. Stretch the left leg out straight in front of you and keep the thigh rolled inwards towards the body. The toes of both feet should point upwards towards the ceiling.
  • As you inhale, visualize breathing into the area between your lower abdomen and upper thigh. Each time you exhale, bring the knee a little closer to your chest. Continue for 6 breaths.
  • Now, inhale, exhale and holding the belt with your two hands, stretch the right leg up towards the ceiling.
  • As you inhale, gently stretch the leg out of the hip joint. Each time you exhale, take the foot a little closer to the face. Keep the left thigh rolled inwards and the toes pointed upwards. Continue for 6 breaths.
  • Inhale, exhale and very slowly use the belt to help you lower the leg to the floor. The idea, now, is to move the leg sideways in the direction of the head ( but not quite that far!) Work as before, extending the leg out of the hip joint on inhalation and moving the foot along the floor on exhalation. Only move the foot in tiny increments – about an inch each time. Keep the left thigh rolled inwards and the toes pointed upwards.
  • Keeping the left hip and shoulder pressed down towards the floor, continue for 6 breaths.  Inhaling, slide the leg along the floor again and match it up with the other foot.
  • Repeat on the left side of the body.
  • Every time you practice the pose, keep moving your hands further down the belt until you can eventually hold the big toe with your fingers!

NEED HELP?

~If you find it difficult to stretch the leg upwards, keep the knee bent until your flexibility improves.

~ If you find it difficult to bring your foot to the floor, rest it on a couple of hard-back books.

~ Don’t worry if your legs muscles wobble. They’re just waking up after a long spell of hibernation!

STOP!

~ DO NOT practice these stretches if you are over 3 months pregnant.

~ Practice with lots of TLC if you suffer from disc problems or sciatica.

P.S. The whole idea of practicing Hatha Yoga is to develop awareness. Usually, awareness of the body comes first, then awareness of the breath and finally awareness of our thoughts. So usually, we start with the positions. No matter which pose you are doing, you need to think of not just the part of the body that is being stretched but also all of the other parts of the body as well. You need to ask yourself which parts of the body need to be firm, active and engaged and which parts can just relax. In this way the parts which are being stretched are supported by the parts that are doing the relaxing. There is such a beautiful symmetry to the whole system. Nothing is left out and every part literally plays its part. But this is hard work in the beginning. It can seem like there is too much to think about. Just be patient with yourself, it is the same for every other student of yoga. Keep coming back to the instructions again and again until they seep in by osmosis and become like second nature to you.

In the above pose, Supta Padangusthasana, the parts of the body being stretched are obviously the legs and the hips. So the toes, the arches of the feet, the legs and hips need to be firm and strong. The wrists and/or fingers will also be active in order to hold the foot. Everything else can relax around that: the sides of the neck, the shoulders, the arms, the elbows and the back. So you need to keep tuning in to these areas to make sure that they remain relaxed and that you don’t tense them up in your efforts to stretch the legs. Every other pose is similar. You won’t have time to think about bills or how to put up with your boss. And to boot, you’ll have this wonderfully toned and relaxed body.

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