Padangusthasana and Padahastasana
Exhaling into Stillness: The Standing Sequence in The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Padangusthasana (“big toe posture”) and Padahastasana (“hand-to-foot posture”) mark the beginning of the Ashtanga Yoga standing sequence. After the powerful, dynamic movements of the Surya Namaskara, these simple forward folds are a welcome exhale into stillness, a well-timed transition into the grounding postures of the standing sequence.
Returning to Samasthitih after their final round of Surya Namaskara B, the practitioner maintains the sense of even standing as they bring their feet about half a foot apart. Inhaling to reach the chest forward as they grab the big toes, they let the exhale carry them downward, allowing the neck to relax and pulling the chest towards the legs. Inhale look up between the eyebrows and lengthen the spine and exhale move into the pose. After five lengthening breaths, inhale again, opening the heart and lift the chest to gaze between the eyebrows. The next exhale changes the hand position to that of Padahastasana, sliding the hands, palms up, under the feet until the toes are where a watch would be on the wrist. Folding forward again brings an even deeper fold and a new relationship with the ground, a slight variation to take note of as we cultivate attention through movement.
Feel The Feet Rooted to The Earth
The experience of Padangusthasana begins in the feet. An awareness of the tripod-like contact points between the soles of the feet and the ground in this simple posture begins an exploration of stability that carries throughout the standing sequence. Try experimenting with shifting the weight backwards and forwards on the feet in this posture, seeking the point of greatest balance. Notice how a slight shift of weight in the feet affects the sensations of the posture, a ripple effect from the ground up. Finding center, a place of stability, draw your consciousness to the way the rest of the body, in particular the legs and core, adapt to maintain it. How do they adapt again when the balance changes in Padahastasana? Bringing your awareness to these sensations fosters an attitude of consciousness that will carry through your practice, off the mat, and into your day-to-day activities.
On a physical level, the basic benefits of these postures are twofold, a symmetrical lengthening of both the hamstrings and the spine. Moving slowly and consciously as you enter and deepen these postures will both help foster a focused attention in your practice and protect your body from accidental strain. A slight engagement of the quadriceps will help the hamstrings release, while being sure to bend from the hips (rather than the waist) will ensure length in the spine. Maintain a concavity in the lumbar spine, supporting through the abdominals rather than letting the lower back cave in as you lengthen. Allow the breath to support you as you move deeper into these standing forward folds, inhaling to lengthen as the rib cage expands, exhaling to find support and stability through the legs and lower abdominals.
Forward folds, including these two standing ones, offer a detoxifying effect on the internal organs of the abdomen. They’re especially helpful in staving off digestive issues, providing relief for the discomfort of stomach ailments, constipation, bloating, acidity, and flatulence. As they bring the head below the heart, these standing forward folds have the added benefit of encouraging blood flow towards the brain, helping to regulate blood pressure.
Moving into these postures calmly and simply, without strain or tension, can be a soothing experience. Settling into these postures helps ease stress and anxiety – but only if you’re careful not to allow that stress to become a part of the posture itself. Let the head hang heavy with the neck relaxed, and keep the shoulders lifted and light, not crunched up by the ears. Most importantly, remember to breathe, paying attention to the way each inhale and exhale moves through the posture.
How to Move Out of Padahastasana
After five breaths, inhale look up, exhale take your hands to the waist, inhale and come all the way up to return to Samasthitih on an exhale. Grounded physically and emotionally by these initial standing postures, you’re now ready to dive deeper into the standing sequence.
Related Article: Saluting The Sun, The importance of SURYA NAMASKARA