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Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend: The Complete Guide

Prasarita Padottanasana, a forward bend, offers relief to your chest, legs and head.


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Prasarita Padottanasana I (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) is a mild inversion that increases flexibility while strengthening and stretching your legs and spine.

When you practice Prasarita Padottanasana, fold forward from your hips to stretch your hamstrings without straining your back. It doesn’t matter how close you get to the ground—what matters is that you stabilize your legs and your spine while you bend forward.

“How often have you heard people say, ‘I can’t do yoga—I can’t even touch my toes’?’” says Annie Carpenter, the creator of SmartFLOW Yoga, of this pose. “What they don’t realize is that yoga isn’t about touching your toes or achieving any other goal; it’s about learning to skillfully move your body through its appropriate range of motion.”

Adopting this mentality can save you from back pain and strain down the line, say Carpenter. Consider this: You fold forward from standing all the time in daily life—to pick something up from the floor, for example—usually while rounding your back. Over time, this can overstretch and destabilize, or create strain in, the lower back. Practicing Prasarita Padottanasana regularly can counteract that tendency.

 

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Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend basics

Sanskrit: Prasarita Padottanasana (pra-sa-REE-tah pah-doh-tahn-AHS-anna)

prasarita = stretched out, expanded, spread
pada = foot
ut = intense
tan = to stretch or extend

Pose type: Forward bend

Targets: Lower body

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Benefits

This pose is good for stretching your hamstrings, calves, and hips; strengthening your feet, ankles, and legs; and building awareness of protecting your lower back.

Other Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend perks:

  • Counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting
  • Calms and relaxes the mind to relieve anxious thoughts and feelings
  • May ease symptoms of tension headaches and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin facing the long side of your mat in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
  2. Step your feet 3–4 feet apart, with your hands on your hips.
  3. Lift tall through your whole torso and fold slowly over your legs. Bend from your hip joints instead of rounding your lower back. If your back starts to round, stop folding forward.
  4. Use the first two fingers on each hand to wrap around your big toes. Bend your elbows and draw them toward one another. Let your neck relax and the top of your head release toward the mat.
  5. Fold deeper, bringing your head toward the floor. Anchor your feet, firm your leg muscles and activate your inner thigh muscles. Lengthen your entire spine from your sitting bones to the crown of your head.
  6. Bend your elbows, stacking them over your wrists, with your elbows reaching straight back like Chaturanga Dandasana arms. Draw your shoulders away from the ears. (See below for other arm variations.)
  7. After several breaths, ground into your feet, straighten your arms, and lengthen your spine forward.
  8. Inhale as you slowly lift up to standing. Step your feet together, come into Mountain Pose at the front of the mat, and pause.
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Explore the pose

There are four varied arm positions you can take within the pose, classically distinguished by letters of the alphabet:

  1. Prasaritta Padotanasana A 
    Place your hands on the mat beneath your shoulders with your fingertips in line with your toes. Bend your elbows and draw them toward one another as if you were in Chaturanga Dandasana. Let your neck relax and the top of your head release toward the mat.
  2. Prasaritta Padotanasana B
    Keep your hands on your hips. Draw your elbows up.
  3. Prasaritta Padotanasana C
    Interlace your fingers behind your back in a bind and lift your knuckles toward the ceiling or reach your arms overhead and lift your knuckles toward the wall in front of you.
  4. Prasaritta Padotanasana D
    Use the first two fingers on each hand to wrap around your big toes as you would for Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose). Bend your elbows and draw them toward one another as if you were in Chaturanga Dandasana. Let your neck relax and the top of your head release toward the mat.

Be mindful!

  • Exit this pose slowly, especially if you are prone to dizziness or have low blood pressure. Make sure to take several breaths to come up slowly out of the pose.
  • Breathe deeply in this pose and focus on folding forward with integrity and presence. Awareness and attention in even simple-seeming poses is a key to reaping the benefits of the practice of yoga. Bring that attention to your knees; if they have a tendency to hyperextend, practice with a slight bend in your knees to keep your hamstrings engaged.
  • Avoid or modify the pose to be more gentle if you have a hamstring or groin tear
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Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Wide-Legged Forward Bend with hands on blocks

If your hamstrings are tight, place blocks in front of you to effectively lift the floor to you. Keep your legs active. Remember that yoga is about making skillful choices that allow you to maintain the alignment of the pose. It’s not about getting into the deepest possible iteration of the stretch.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Wide-Legged Forward Bend on a chair

If you find it challenging to fold forward with your hands to the mat or blocks, rest your hands or forearms on the seat of a chair. You can raise the height of the support to you by adding folded blankets or towels beneath your forearms.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Prep with hamstring openers, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Use this pose to open your shoulders and heart to prepare for any deep heart openers or arm balances.

Preparatory poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Counter poses

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Garudasana (Eagle Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Your body in Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend | Anatomy

Prasarita Padottanasana is a forward fold that is also an inversion, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher, as it places the head below the heart. The focus of the stretch is the hamstrings and gastrocnemius and soleus complex extending into the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles of the back.

When you flex forward, you draw the ischial tuberosities (the original of the hamstrings) upwards. Contract the quadriceps to help your hamstrings release. Squeeze the abdominals to activate the rectus abdominus. Contracting these muscles creates reciprocal inhibition of the gluteus maximus, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae muscles, allowing them to relax into the stretch.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Wide-Legged Standing Foward Bend: Prasarita Padottanasana 2

This pose stretches the entire back body, including the hamstrings, the gastrocnemius and soleus complex, adductor magnus, gluteus maximus, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae muscles. Lift the arches of your feet by activating the tibialis anterior and posterior. Balance inversion of the ankles with a slight eversion force by pressing the balls of your feet into the mat. This engage the peroneus longus and brevis muscles at the outside of the lower legs to stabilize your ankles.

In Prasarita Padottanasana D (as in the illustration above), press the palms into the mat and rotate them externally. This activates the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff. Draw your shoulders away from your ears using the lower third of the trapezius. Note how these two actions open your chest and deepen the flexion of your trunk.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Vinyasa and Standing Poses by Ray Long.

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Put Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend into practice

Ready to put this forward bend into practice? Here are a few flows to try:

10 Grounding Poses to Balance Your Vata Dosha This Fall

A Calming Yoga Sequence to Help You Slow Down

6 Yoga Poses for People Who Sit All Day


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.