Welcome to another edition of Less is More. This series is all about the ways we can do less but receive MORE benefits. Sounds good right? This week we are looking at Supta Padangusthasana. (Pronounced- soup-TAH pod-ang-goosh-TAHS-anna- for all you Sanskrit lovers out there) If you have never done this pose before, it will change your life and if you are someone who is familiar with this pose, keep reading. We are going to get specific on some different and more effective ways to move in the this stretch. You might be surprised on what you discover!
If you happen to attend my yoga classes on a frequent basis you'll more than likely be quite familiar with this pose. In fact it is one of the poses that I always suggest doing the most often, everyday if you can. It is one of the best stretches for some of our commonly tight areas- hamstrings, calves, IT Band and inner thighs. What makes this stretch so wonderful is that it is one of the safest ways of stretching those areas without hurting your back. Especially if you suffer from low back aches and pains or want to prevent lower back issues. But how does stretching our legs in this position make our back happy? Because we focus on keeping the pelvis neutral. What does keeping the pelvis neutral mean? Let's find out!
In the picture below my leg is about straight up from my pelvis and I am getting a great stretch in that spot. If I was more concerned about looking like a flexible superstar, then to get my leg closer to my head (which for some reason we think that kind of mobility is something to strive for) I would have to tilt my pelvis and flatten my sacrum and low back to the floor to get there. So while my leg is closer to my head, it is only because the pelvis is going along for the ride. Which means by tilting my pelvis, the pelvis is doing most of the moving and we aren't getting an honest range of mobility.
Supta Padangusthasana 1
Try it like this. Take your strap, place it around the ball of your foot. Straighten your leg. Now if we have tight hamstrings we aren't going to look like the picture. Likely our leg will be any varying degree closer to the floor. But the important thing is to keep the leg straight and pelvis neutral. Neutral pelvis will mean we keep our lower back off the floor to maintain our natural lumbar curve. Another way to tell if you are doing it right is if you could easily slide a pencil under your low back. When we keep the pelvis neutral we are going to get into some different areas in the legs that don't normally get stretched when the pelvis does most of the movement. So this will likely feel more intense. But it is a good intense because we are not straining our back to do so. Stay there and breathe anywhere from 5 to 15 breaths. (or as long as it feel good)
Supta Padangusthasana 2
Now we get into the really fun part of this stretch, the IT Band. For most of us, this is really going to up the ante. The IT band begins at the hip and extends down to the outer side of the shin bone just below the knee joint. It provides stability and gets used when we walk, run (runners really need this stretch as IT band issues are common) and a variety of movements. It is chronically tight for most of us.
To do the stretch: Keep your pelvis in the same neutral alignment. Without changing anything in the pelvis, bring both ends of the strap into your opposite hand and gently bring your leg across the body. BUT let's make one thing clear. The pelvis stays neutral. Less really is more in this case. Your leg only moves to the opposite side as far as you can keep both sides of your pelvis down as you can see in the picture. Breathe deep and stay here for as long as you can handle it.
Supta Padangusthasana 3
For the third variation, we stretch our inner thighs. (Adductors) Another chronically tight spot in the body. By now we are happily keeping our pelvis neutral and will take both sides of the strap into the same hand as the leg in the air. Open your leg away from your body until you feel a good stretch in your inner thigh. Now your pelvis is really going to want to lift off the ground and in this variation we do our best to keep pressing our opposite leg and pelvis gently down to counter balance the stretch. Stay in the stretch from 5 to 15 (or more) breaths.
Ahhhhh.... you are done. One side at least. Before moving to the other leg, the best reward after the intense sensations in that stretch is to feel your newly lengthened leg. You will likely feel that your leg has grown another few inches. Of course you haven't but that feeling is the sensation of your chronically tight muscles getting back to a happier and healthier length. Hurrah!