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Modify Supta Padangusthasana if needed to find safe alignment for your body.
If your hamstrings are short or stiff …
Try using a belt around the foot of your lifted leg so you can reach your foot without bending your leg. Wrap the strap around the arch or ball of the top leg’s big toe. Grab a strap end in each hand, wrapping the strap around your hands to help you pull on your foot. Soften through your front body and release any tension in your shoulders. Keep breathing through your nose.
If you are looking for deep relaxation …
Try doing Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose in a doorway. This fully supports the lifted leg and allows you to stretch it while relaxing your shoulders and arms. Start with your hips at a doorframe, one leg in the hall, the other bent into your chest. Slowly extend your top (bent) leg along the doorframe.
If you experience a nagging pain along the pelvic rim, lower back, or upper hip …
Try using two long straps. Loop both straps and place one around the hip crease of your top leg and the foot of the bottom leg. Use the other strap around the base of your skull and the foot of the top leg. This will allow you to relax and hold your pelvis in a neutral position without stressing the low back (many of us shift the pelvis when we stretch our hamstrings, causing or aggravating sacroiliac-joint imbalance).
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Strength in Length
One of the most popular yogic principles in the Yoga Sutra is Sthira sukham asanam, often interpreted as finding effort (strength) without tension, as well as relaxation (ease) without being dull, in every asana. One of the keys to mastering this tricky duality is through lengthening and strengthening muscles. In most cases, when a muscle is long, you have more leverage to use it, bringing ease to poses. In the case of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), lengthening and strengthening your hamstrings through warm-up poses like Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose will set off a chain reaction through your body that can lead to open shoulders and hips, and ultimately spinal flexibility and mobility—one of yoga’s ultimate goals.
Teacher Eddie Modestini is co-founder and co-director of Maya Yoga Studio on Maui, Hawaii. Since 1983, he has studied with preeminent teachers including B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He has a degree in exercise physiology and has taught advanced bodywork techniques.