Extended hand-toe pose

This post is written by a 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training student, Nancy. I’ve just posted it on her behalf. Here is goes:
Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana,
Extended hand-toe pose.
Utthita: extended
Hasta: hand
Pada : foot
Angusta: big toe
Asana: Pose
Level: intermediate
The upper body: the spine is neutral; shoulder is flexed; hand holding the lifted leg: elbow extended; index and major are flexed. Hand resting on the standing leg hip: elbow flexed;
The standing leg: extension of the hip and the knee;
The lifted leg: flexion of the hip of the lifted leg; knee extended;
Muscles contractions:
Upper body: Isometric contraction of the Deltoid and the for-arm muscles holding the lifted leg; Advance variation: in step one if flexibility allows the lifted leg is lifted more upward the face, this induce an isotonic concentric contraction of the biceps brachii
Lifted leg: isotonic concentric contraction of the Hamstrings, Iliacus, and posterior deep muscles;
Standing leg: isometric contraction of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, astus medialis, gluteus, gracilis, adductor magnus and calf’s muscles.
Drishti (gazing): Step one of the pose, look forward on something steady over the lifted leg. Though some suggested focusing on the big toe, and I do it personally, I noticed that when my balance is not settled then I am distracted by my shaking toe, I find it easier to focus on something in front that does not shake. Step two of the pose look at something fixed over the shoulder of the standing leg, same idea. The difficulty in the Ashtanga primary series is when you have to keep your balance from gazing A to gazing B, sometimes it easy and sometimes I lose my balance. I noticed that when rotating my head and leg, I need to keep my abdominals really tucked in.
Getting into the pose:
Stand tall and firm in tadasana (mountain pose)
Abdominals are contracted. The deltoid, pronator teres, flexor carpi and Palmaris longus of the extended hand holding the big toe are engaged. The chest is open, spine straight, abdominals contracted. The standing leg is fully engaged, muscles squeezed tighly.
Critical zone: abdominals, standing leg and chest upright.
Tips: stretch your legs on something high, it will help lengthening the muscles when lifting the leg.
Physical: improves balance, strengthens the arches, ankles, calves and tights, strengthens the hamstrings, and lengthens the spine.
Mental: stimulate the mind, develop focus concentration and willpower.
Coordination of the muscular and nervous balance
For those with knee, or ankle injury, the lifted leg should be kept into the chest
Those with hernia problems, hip injury or sciatica should avoid this position.
Breathing: Ujjahi breathing. Avoid moving the abdomen as the muscles have to remain contracted for a better balance.
My experience:
I found it easier to balance myself when squeezing tightly my standing leg and my abdominals, keeping my chest up right.
I had a tendency to bend my back because of flexibility issues with the lifted leg, however when beginner in this pose, it is best to bend the lifted leg and focus on the engagement of the standing leg and upper body as described above. Once balance is achieved then we can start working on the extension of the lifted leg.
Each of us needs to find our own center point and which method works best for ourself. Feel the pose with your body and your breathing. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, yoga is “99% practice and 1% Theory”, after 4 weeks of practice I may not be to the top but I am working to improving.
Reference: Hatha Yoga illustrated, M Kirk, B Boon, D Dituro; Yoga Anatomy, L Kaminoff; Anatomy and physiology, Cliffs quick review; Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Swami S. Saraswati.

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