Asana of the Week: Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana
This week's asana of interest is Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, which is a bit of a cumbersome title, so most just call it the Standing Splits. This pose has been popping up in nearly every class I've taken over the past two weeks, probably because it's an efficient stretch and strengthener that can be entered in a variety of ways. Also, I suspect it's popular because this is the pose that builds that yoga butt everybody seems to want so much.
The Standing Splits brings a strong stretch into the hamstring of the standing leg while keeping the front of the leg fully engaged. The hip, hamstring, and glutes of the extended leg work strongly to hold the leg up. One may push through the inner heel of the extended leg to help square the hips and work the back of the leg, but for more of a hip-opening experience, one may also turn the extended leg out. This will allow the foot to come quite a bit higher, which will bring a nice stretch into the front hip of the extended leg and ease the work of the glutes and inner thigh. I experiment with both versions in my own practice, sometimes staying for a few breaths with the hips square, then inhaling the leg higher and opening the hip for a stretch before exhaling the leg back down.
There is a notable difference in sensation here between flexing the foot, pushing through the heel of the extended leg or pushing through the ball of the foot. Again, I experiment with both foot positions in my own practice. I know they feel different, I just haven't decided if one way is better than the other. Pointing the foot seems to engage the front of the leg more strongly, while flexing the foot brings more sensation to the back of the leg. Readers? Any thoughts?
As I mentioned, this pose has been featured in every class I've attended recently, and I've received a few corrections. I had always looked down at the foot of the standing leg when practicing the standing splits because it felt more stable, but I've been told to drop the head, relax the neck, and look to the knee. I resisted this at first, but with some practice, I've noticed it brings my weight a little more forward in the foot of the standing leg, allowing me to fold more deeply and lift the leg just a little bit higher.
If the hamstring stretch is too much, bend the knee of the standing leg or lower the lifted leg slightly instead of bending the knee of the lifted leg. The benefits of this pose come primarily from keeping that leg straight and strong rather than lifting the leg high or fully bending over the standing leg. Intensify Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana by lifting one or both hands to the ankle of the standing leg to balance on the foot alone.