By opening your hamstrings, hips and thighs in Prasarita Padottanasana, you gain the flexibility you need to progress on to the more advanced poses. This pose is especially good for promoting circulation if you aren't ready to do Headstands yet.
(Pronounced as "pra-SAH-reetah PAH-DOUGH-TAHN-AHS-anna")
In Sanskrit, Prasarita means "expanded or spread out," and the compound word Padottanasana means "feet stretched out intensely."
Stand up straight on the center of your yoga mat in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. Face the long side of your mat. Breathe in and then jump your feet out to the sides as wide apart as possible on an exhalation. Make sure your heels are in line with each other and the outside edges of your feet are parallel to each other. Your toes should point forward. Activate the muscles of your inner legs so that you do not collapse the arches of your feet. Keep the arches lifted and strong. Straighten your legs and draw the thigh muscles up away from the knees.
Place your hands on your hips. Breathe in as you look up at the ceiling and lift your chest up, elongating the front of your torso. Then while exhaling, bend forward from your hips and press your palms down into the floor. Position your hands in between your feet. The hands should be shoulder-width apart from each other. Spread the fingers apart. Straighten your arms. Look in front of you as you make your back concave. Do not crunch up the back of your neck as you gaze forward.
Stabilize yourself further by concentrating on pressing your big toes into the floor. Visualize your inner-leg muscles getting longer as you lift your tailbone slightly up behind you. After you take a few breaths, bend forward fully with your chest coming down first and try to place the crown of your head on the floor. Bend your elbows as you come down. You can put your head on top of a yoga block if you cannot reach the floor. Otherwise, it is also fine to let your head hang down without touching the floor.
Although your head will have contact with the floor, you should still keep most of your bodyweight on your legs. Try to keep your feet, the palms of your hands and your head all in one straight line. Draw your shoulder blades as deep into your back as you can so that you do not collapse your chest. Lift your shoulders away from your ears.
Hold this posture for 30 seconds or more if you can. Breathe evenly. When you're ready to come out, breathe in and lift your head up from the floor. Keep your back concave as you slowly roll up. Your legs should remain straight at all times. Then slowly walk your feet back together.
In the beginning, it may be difficult to bend down enough to put your hands on the floor. You can try spreading your feet further apart to help you bend lower. If that isn't possible for you, then you can put your forearms on the seat of a chair in front of you.
Another alternative if you can bend down lower than the chair seat is to put your hands on top of yoga blocks. Focus on pulling your chest toward the floor while you look up to make your back concave, which lengthens the front of your torso. Keep your legs straight and your thighs active at all times to protect your back.
Move your hands down to the floor and interlock your fingers together behind your head just like you would do in Headstand, or Salamba Sirsasana. Focus on pressing the outside edges of your wrists and forearms against the floor while lifting your shoulders away from the ground.
To get the maximum extension of your hamstrings, advanced students can change the final position of their arms. After bending fully forward to put the crown of your head on the floor, put your hands on the sides of your waist. From there, slide the palms of your hands together so that you form the Anjali Mudra, also known as the Namaste gesture, behind your back.
This behind-the-back salutation goes by the name of Pascima Namaskar in Sanskrit. Try to push your hands up toward your head so that the pinky sides of your hands press right against the middle of your shoulder blades. Expand your chest to create more space for your hands to press into your back. You can also simply grab your elbows behind your back if you cannot do Pascima Namaskar.
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