For lower back pain and stiff hamstrings, nothing beats Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, also known as Supta Padangusthasana.
(Pronounced as "soup-tah POD-ANG-goosh-TAHS-anna")
Breaking down the original Sanskrit words into English, supta means "lying down," pada means "foot," and angusta means "big toe."
Lie on your back on top of your yoga mat. Stretch out both of your legs straight on the floor in line with your torso. You can put one folded blanket underneath your head if you feel discomfort while lying your head on the yoga mat. Inhale as you lift your right leg up with your right knee bent. Keep your left leg stretched out straight on the mat, extending through your left heel. Rest your left hand on top of your left thigh. Keeping your left hand on your left thigh helps you maintain the awareness of keeping this thigh straight and firm as you continue working in the pose.
Put the loop of a yoga belt around the top of the arch of your right foot. Hold the end of the belt in your hands as you straighten your right leg up in the air. Try to lift the right leg until it is straight and perpendicular to the floor. When you have stretched your lifted leg to its maximum, then take a few breaths. Now let your arms slide down the belt so that you tuck your shoulder blades into your chest, pulling the belt from your middle-back muscles instead of from your shoulders.
It is easy to think that once you start feeling this intense stretch, you cannot go further. However, you can stretch your leg a little more if you don't rush it. Hold your raised leg up for at least 30 seconds while breathing normally. Then visualize letting the roots of your thighs descend to the floor as you tug the foot of your raised leg a bit closer to your head just for a few seconds. Then let the leg come down a few inches. Now pull it up again, pulsing the leg back and forth gently toward your head and slightly away to help loosen your hamstrings.
If this stretch is very intense for you, then you can stay here and hold it for as long as you can. If you are ready to do more, then take the end of the yoga belt and pull it behind your head on the floor so that you are holding the end with your left hand by the left side of your head. Now grip the belt tightly in your left hand as you slowly lower your right foot down to your right side. Hold your right foot so that your right leg forms a 90-degree angle with your left leg. Rotate the right leg out from the top of your thigh so that your right inner thigh faces the ceiling. You can place a yoga block under your right foot for support so that you can rest the leg.
At first, you may only be able to hold the pose for 30 seconds. Over time, try to increase the duration up to 5 minutes. To come out, inhale as you bring your right leg back up to the vertical position and slowly lower it straight down to the floor again. Repeat this pose while lifting your left leg and holding it for the same amount of time as you held it on the right side.
In the beginning, it helps you open your hips much more if you perform this pose with the foot of your bottom leg pressed against a wall. As you lie down, bend your knees and press the soles of both feet into the wall. Then push yourself to slide back a little, using this movement to tuck your tailbone under you and hold your legs firmly straight. Then raise the other leg and continue the pose as normal.
Once you have become more flexible in this pose, then start practicing it without the yoga belt. You can come into the pose with the belt, but then exhale as you pull the leg up higher until your toes are close enough for you to grip them with your hand. Hook your first fingers and thumb around your big toe. Extend your lifted leg through your heel as you keep both legs straight.
When you are comfortable in Supta Padangusthasana, try pulling your raised leg across your torso. With the right leg lifted, grab your toes or the yoga belt in your left hand and pull the right leg to the left. Your right foot should come right above your left hip. Keep that right leg straight. Repeat these steps while raising your left leg.
In this pose, it takes a lot of thigh strength to keep the leg that remains on the floor straight and pressed down. Ask a partner to help you by standing next to you and pressing their foot down onto the hip at the root of your thigh. Their moderate downward pressure will help ground your leg and release your hips while you raise the other leg and stretch your hamstrings open more.
The best way to learn yoga is to take lessons from a professional teacher. Want to see the yoga classes near you?