10.15.2011

Asana of the Week: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

Starting position
A

B

C



Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is a challenging sequence of standing balancing asanas and the apex of the arc of the standing sequence of Ashtanga yoga.

 This family of postures strengthens the legs, back, abdominals, and hip flexors.  Variation A lengthens the hamstrings of the lifted leg, and variation B opens the adductors.  Variation C asks a great deal of the psoas and rectus abdominis of the lifted leg as it strengthens the glutes of the standing leg.

While these postures do require a great deal of activation, the biggest challenge is to remain present with the breath through transitions.  Remember that drishte is your friend.  It is the key to steady balance.  Find a point that is not moving and rest your gaze there for the duration of your stay in the posture.  Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B is perhaps the most difficult variation because the dristhe must be taken to the side at the same time that the leg is moved.  Think of the leg and head as being attached to the same hinge and simultaneously swing them both open.  Try to prevent the ribs from flaring out and press the hip of the lifted leg down to keep the right and left sides long.

If the lifted leg, the standing leg, or both are unable to straighten completely, do not fold forward in Variation A.  Rather, remain upright in the starting position with a slight bend to the knees.  You may also release the toe, bend the knee of the lifted leg, and hold your knee with your hand as an introductory modification.

Below is a video of the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana sequence in motion.  In practice, each individual asana is held for five breaths, but for the purposes of brevity, I mark each position with one breath instead of the full five.  Notice as you watch that balance does not equate to stillness.  Balance is fluid and responsive to the moment.  Do not be rigid in your postures.  Let the prana flow.

4 comments:

  1. Hi there! Just wanted to pop in and say I really enjoy your blog. If I am having trouble with a particular posture, I go thru your earlier posts to see if you offered some insight for that particular pose. Right now, I am struggling with pincha mayurasana...if I kick up lighlty I can get there and balance with aid of the wall. My desire though is to be able to press or float up so that I'm not simply kicking and hoping for the best. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance.... :)

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  2. Hi Kimberly - Pincha Mayurasana is a project pose of mine, as well, so I can only offer you what little insight I have gained in my explorations of this posture. Assuming that you are doing this outside of an Ashtanga practice, I recommend placing a block (or hardcover book) between the hands so the "L" of the thumb and first finger wrap around the corners of the block. This keeps the hands from sliding toward each other and thus prevents the elbows from sliding open. This technique stabilizes the position of the shoulders and makes the foundation of the posture more solid.

    Also, make sure that you are not craning the head too far back to look forward of the hands. If the neck is overly extended, the low back is more likely to collapse and the legs will fly up and over. Try to drop the gaze to the space on the floor between the thumbs as you lift from the low belly to support your low back.

    As for floating up instead of kicking, think of "pulling" yourself up with one leg rather than kicking with momentum. Start by lifting one leg as high as you can with the hips square, then tiptoe the other foot as close to your face as possible. Then, without kicking at all, pull up on the top leg until the toes of the bottom leg lift from the floor. Play with that for a moment, then slowly bring the bottom leg up to meet it's mate.

    That's all I've got. Hope there's something there for you to work with.

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  3. Haha - is that JAZZ I'm hearing? Would love to know what it is...:-)

    Great to see the pose in motion, and it demonstrated the breath for me as well. I'm surprised how much using my breath has helped me (since reading first chapt of Gregor Maehle :-)) but it's always hard to judge, just doing home practice. I hope to be up for some studio practice, soon. I've noticed that when I'm ill, I can't do the breath technique - there's no sound! Which makes me love the days when I can get the real "ocean feel" even more :-). Thanks for another great post and happy week to you.

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  4. Hey Megan! Thanks for getting back to me. I've been practicing forearm balance and the tips you gave, especially tip toeing up and lifting thru the tailbone helped me tremendously. I was able to lift up and balance...at the wall but not using it. Yay!

    Since you mentioned that this was a project pose of yours as well, I'll share with you another tid bit I found helpful. When I set up...forearms parallel on the mat, shoulders over elbows, I inhale into the back of the heart to pronate the shoulder blades but this is the key part....then there's an external rotation of the humerus. You can appreciate this if you set up with forearms on the mat then rotate palms face up, then spread hands away from each other. I found the pronation of the shoulder blades, coupled with the external rotation of the upper arms stabilized the shoulders and created a more solid base. Jason Crandell on yogaglo gave a beautiful demonstration of this.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for your insight!

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