For Beginners: Supta Padangusthasana
Once you've established your basic pose, you can explore going deeper. Keeping your right leg where it is, actively straighten your left leg, trying to press your calf into the floor. If you can do this easily, try to press the thigh into the floor as well. Extend lightly through the balls of both feet, as if you are pressing on the gas pedal in a car. Strengthen both legs by gently drawing all the muscles firmly in toward the bone. In yoga, we usually practice toned rather than passive stretches; your muscles should feel slightly engaged, no matter how far you release into the pose. You may be surprised to discover that this slight toning action allows your hamstrings to release more completely.
Now begin to investigate and observe your pose. Did you displace your pelvis when you extended through your legs? Did the right side of your pelvis hike up toward your shoulder, or did your whole pelvis roll toward your left leg? If necessary, rebalance your pelvis, and see how this adjustment changes your experience of the asana. Next, check your feet: Have the inner edges rolled in closer to your pelvis than the outer edges? If so, lengthen both legs from the inner groins down through the inner edges of your knees and feet, and see if this deepens your pose. In each of these explorations, notice how the adjustments affect your Supta Padangusthasana. Choose the position in which you can challenge your hamstrings while releasing all the parts of your body that don't need to be strongly engaged in the pose.
Along with many other benefits, Supta Padangusthasana can teach patience and humility. You simply cannot rush the opening of your hamstrings. Instead of constantly pushing for a deeper stretch, take a respite from striving, and invite a quality of timelessness into your experience. Breathe deeply, and allow your body to open at its own pace. Remain in the pose for at least a minute (longer if you like), and then bend your right knee into your chest for a few breaths before taking the pose on the other side.
You may never become a model for the loose hamstring calendar, but the benefits of Supta Padangusthasana will enrich your life in many ways. Your pelvis will enjoy more of its full movement through space (great for Latin dancing!), all your yoga poses will benefit, and your spirit will be soothed by the gentle release of the often overworked muscles on the back side of your body.
The founder of Seattle Yoga Arts, Denise Benitez has studied yoga for over 25 years. She has studied primarily in the Iyengar tradition of hatha yoga, but is also informed by many other traditions of yoga, human movement, and spirituality.
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