Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Focus Pose - Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose)

So it’s been a while since I reviewed a pose…over a year in fact. For those of you who may be newer to my blog, it was my intent ever so long ago to work my way through the poses of the Primary (Astanga) Sequence in order as best as possible, and to initiate some discussion on each. Somewhere my intent fell by the wayside, but I’m going to try and bring this aspect back. The poses and sequence are based off of my initial Astanga Teacher Training from 2004, as taught by David Swenson. I am aware there are variations in this sequence depending on who your instructor is/was and when in time you learned it.

Here is a list of the poses I’ve done previously (see also "focus poses" in the tags):

Padangushasana and Padahastasana (Standing Forward Fold)
Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
Parsvottanasan (Pyramid)
Virabhadrasana II
Virabhadrasana III

If you are a practitioner of the Astanga (also spelled Ashtanga) sequence, we are now moving into our balance poses. The first of the two is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasa - Hand to Big Toe pose or Hand to Knee pose, depending on your abilities.
From Parsvottanasana (pyramid), we have returned to samasthti at the front of our mat.

Find your anchor in your left foot by pressing it actively into the floor. Left hand at the waist or hip. We do not lift our hand in this variation.  Shift your weight to your left side.

On an INHALE, raise right leg.

NOTE! There are four levels or four rungs in your ladder to work with here, and it is important in all levels to keep your “tree trunk” (torso) upright. If you are bending over to just to “get” the next level, please, straighten your torso and come down one level.

Level 3
photo: yogaartandscience.com

Level 2
photo: yogaartandscience.com

Level one: right hand to right knee

Level two: right hand to toes (inside the leg) begin to work on straightening from here.

Level three: mostly straight to straight leg

Level four: (only if your extended leg is straight) add a forward fold.

5 breaths

On an INHALE (if folding), straighten.

EXHALE, open the leg to the right. If in a level 2/3, some folks may need to revert to a level 1 or bent knee position here, or level 2/fingers to toes with a bent knee.

5 breaths

INHALE - bring leg back to front all levels.

EXHALE – raise the knee toward the chest OR Raise the toes higher OR Reach down with both hands and lift the leg higher.

NOTE: There are three variations for this aspect of the pose. I am referring to the variation as I was taught the sequence.

5 breaths

INHALE straighten and exhale, let go of the leg. Working either with bent leg or straight, hold the toes as high off the ground as comfortable for you.

5 breaths

EXHALE release leg to the floor.

Repeat Left Side.

Return to samasthti

Tips and pointers:

Many people find this to be a very challenging balance pose. Several items will help in maintaining stability and steadfastness:

1) Dristhti – traditional drishti is somewhere out in front of your nose. I find the floor works better for me, as then I can more readily ‘ignore’ the people around me. If you are watching others and they start to wobble, so shall you.

2) Engage your core! Use uddyanda bandha here! A lot of this pose comes from your center.

3) Press actively into your supporting foot while trying to touch the ceiling with the crown of your head.

4) Relax your shoulders!

5) And, again, try and avoid the tendency to “hunch over” to get the leg straighter.

6) For folks with flexy-bendy hips, try and avoid the tendency to “hitch the hip” upward on the opening side. Try to keep the hips parallel and open organically.

7) BREATHE!  :)

• Strengthens the legs and ankles
• Stretches the backs of the legs
• Engages the core
• Improves balance

 Bonus!  While searching for appropriate photo's I could use, I came across this lovely clip on YouTube Ashtanga Primary Series with Maria Villella:


Pictures from googling: Utthita Hasta Padangustasana and from yogaartandscience.com

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