Honor Your Unique Body With Three Versions of Hand-to-Big-Toe-Pose
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big Toe Pose) is a challenging standing balance that strengthens the lower body as well as the muscles of the core. This pose also improves posture as it strengthens the muscles along the spine that help us stand upright, while gently encouraging the chest to open. Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose also strengthens the muscles responsible for balancing, which aids in overall balance improvement. Three versions of Hand-to-Big-Toe-Pose may help you explore these benefits.
That said, balance poses are difficult for many because we’re asking our bodies to balance on one leg without any support. Most of us don’t practice this in our everyday lives for an extended period of time, which means most balance poses are out of our comfort zones.
On top of that, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana creates a tension between active hip flexion on the leg that’s extended in front with the need to neutrally extend the hip of the standing leg. The glutes, hamstrings, calf, and soleus muscles of the front leg must stretch quite a bit, while at the same time the psoas, quads, and adductor muscles of the standing leg are firing. Many people have tight hamstrings, so these two actions together can create a difficult combination.
Utilize Yoga Props And Honor Your Unique Body With These 3 Different Variations Of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
The props used in the three versions of Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose below are meant to minimize the challenges identified above, so you can practice this yoga pose in a way that suits the level of strength and mobility you currently have.
Before You Begin, Warm Up Your Hamstrings and Hip Extensors
Before moving into Extended Hand-to-Big Toe Pose, it’s important to properly warm up your body.
Whenever you’re going to stretch a muscle, it’s wise to first engage that same muscle, and start to fatigue it. Once a muscle is warm and tired, it’ll be more ready to lengthen.
Because Extended Hand-to-Big Toe Pose stretches the hamstrings and other hip extensors, warm up these muscles with this slightly unconventional warm-up.
- Start standing at the wall. If you’d like, place your hand on the wall for support.
- Next, shift your weight into the leg closest to the wall.
- Then, start to bring your other leg back behind you without disturbing the orientation of your pelvis. Usually, the natural tendency is for the pelvis is to spill forward. So, hug your belly toward your spine and lift the front of your hips up to resist this tendency.
Note: This is not a big movement. Simply push your heel back, extending all the way through your leg. Although it is small, this exercise is a very controlled movement and will start to heat your hamstrings and other hip extensors as well as the muscles in the standing leg. Practice this five or so times on each side.
Now, here are three versions of Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose:
Beginner Yoga Pose Modification 1: Seated Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Sanskrit Name: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
This first variation of Hand-to-Big Toe Pose is practiced in a folding chair (or similar stationary seat ). This version removes the balancing component from this pose, allowing you to focus on lengthening the hamstrings of your extended leg. It may be surprising, but this pose will still strengthen your core and upper back muscles to help you stand taller with better posture!
1. Start by sitting down on the seat of a folding chair. You may want to place a folded blanket under your hips for support. Usually, you don’t want to sit back into the chair because this often encourages slouching, which will create a tilt in your pelvis. So, sit forward enough to maintain an erect posture. Wherever you are on your chair seat, ensure you can sit on your sit-bones without tucking your pelvis under you.
2. Lengthen your spine. Pull your shoulders back and stack them over your hips. Lift your ribcage up away from your hips. Lift one knee toward your chest. Loop a yoga strap around the bottom of your foot.
3. Hold the strap in one hand and maintain the length in your spine as you start to extend your leg in front of you. Pick a height for your leg that you can maintain without compensating in your spine or hips by slouching or tucking. It doesn’t matter how high the leg is. Look for a moderate amount of stretch in the back of your leg.
4, Gently pull on your strap and draw your elbow down by your waist. This action will help engage the muscles in your upper back, which—in turn—will help to improve your posture. Hold this pose at your edge for several breaths.
5. When you’re ready, gently lower your leg back to the ground.
6. Repeat on the second side.
Option: For the seated version of this pose, if you have tight hamstrings, it may have felt like a lot of muscular effort in your upper body to just hold the weight of your leg out in front of you. If this is the case, place your foot up on a block or two, depending on your hamstring flexibility.
If one block doesn’t deliver any sensation, try placing one block at the highest height on top of another block at the short height. Use your hands behind your thigh to help lift your leg onto the block. That way, you won’t strain to hold your leg up off of the ground. This version will net the same stretch in your hamstrings without strain in your upper body.
Beginner Yoga Pose Modification 2: Standing Balance
For this version of Standing Hand-to-Big Toe, you’ll need a chair and a strap again, but this time, you’ll be standing up. You can practice this version near a wall if you’re still working on balance and you know you’re going to want a little bit of support.
- Place your yoga mat and a chair parallel to a nearby wall. You may wish to place a folded blanket on the seat of your chair for comfort. Have your yoga strap handy.
- Shift your weight to the foot closest to the wall. Make a loop with your strap and place it around your other foot.
- Lift the foot with the loop around it onto the chair, so your heel is resting on the blanket. If you’re using the wall for support, you can take the strap into one hand, while placing your other hand on the wall for balance. Pull gently on the strap in order to engage your upper back muscles, draw your shoulders back, and find an elongated spine.
- Press your extended leg’s hip down toward the ground as it tends to lift up toward your shoulder.
- Press down into your standing foot and lift up through your hips, your torso, and all the way up through the top of your head. Create length all the way up your body.
- Hold for several breaths before lifting your leg off the seat of the chair.
- Repeat on the second side.
Beginner Yoga Pose Modification 3: Hamstring Lengthening
If you happen to have more flexible hamstrings and you want a little bit more of a stretch, you can use all the same props to increase the sensation.
- Follow the same instructions as the previous variation but this time, place a folded blanket onto the back of the chair for comfort.
- Then, place your foot on top of the blanket at this higher height.
Which Version Should You Pick?
One way to know which version to choose is to only go higher if you can do so without rounding your lower back. In most forward bends, it’s beneficial to maintain a neutral pelvis.
Of these three versions of Hand-to-Big-Toe-Pose, choose the version that feels best for your body. Be sure to take notice of the fact that the two sides of your body will feel a little bit different. Check-in with each side, see how your hamstrings feel today, and choose the height that works best for you.