Practice Supta Hasta Padangusthasa first to insinuate the mechanics of the pose into our minds and bodies. When we first practice the pose on the floor with the pull of gravity working in our favor, we can open the hamstrings and the work with the hip flexion and neutralization of the pelvis in a more easeful way. In this space we can also begin to feel the rooting of the femur bone into the hip socket and the power that is required in the straightened leg to maintain the stability of the pose. There are three main variations of this asana as well as its standing counterpart. The first directs simply the lift and extension of one leg while the other acts to strengthen and stabilize. The second version abducts and externally rotates the lifted leg, while the final version realigns the lifted leg at the midline then revolves the torso.
The most common limitation in all variations of Hasta Padangusthasana is tight hamstrings. To extend the leg, we lengthen the hamstrings intensely. This can be more accessible when done with a strap, but when done by taking hold of the big toe (as the name of the pose suggests) it then involves the muscles of the forearm and the shoulder as well. In striving for balance in standing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, it is often common to create imbalance in the hips to compensate for weakness in the standing leg adductors in order to achieve a false sense of center. In addition, it is common to experience hip flexion as a compensatory expression of the full pose.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana asks us to dig in deep, rooting into our core, our center, to find balance instead of falling back on the habitual tendencies that can trick us into thinking we’ve got it all figured out. The more deeply we root both femurs into their hip sockets, them more we ask our standing leg, our spine, our pelvis and our core to support us. In reaching for the fullest expression in any variation of this pose, we are met with multiple observances of our own weaknesses and an opportunity to gain more and more strength the more we willingly sit with what we uncover. After all, that is the point of asana, “to sit with” whatever surfaces, even if it doesn’t reflect the parts of ourselves that we hold in high esteem.
When we rely only on our compensatory strategies to move through our lives, we sacrifice a true connection to our center for an external expression of balance. We might look like we’ve got it all together at work, at home, or on our yoga mats, but then when we are put to the test, we find ourselves flailing, waving our arms madly about trying not to lose the illusion of balance and strength that we’ve worked so hard to create.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is an opportunity to hone that authentic center within us, to choose not to put our energy into our superficial or false coping mechanisms, and instead to cultivate the deep inner qualities that can lead to true and authentic balance and strength. In touching this center purposefully, though it may not be easy, it will lead us to lasting and genuine experiences of strength, balance and flexibility in any situation.