Big Toe Pose (Padangusthasana)
Big toe pose, known as padangusthasana in Sanskrit, is a deep forward fold that lengthens the muscles of the calves, hamstrings, and back. The pose also massages the stomach organs for healthy digestion and benefits the spinal nerves, throat, and nasal passages. Like other inversion poses, big toe pose also relaxes the mind and calms the nerves, teaching the practitioner to surrender him or herself.
- Begin in mountain pose (tadasana) at the top of the mat. Plant your feet hip distance apart.
- Exhale and, keeping your knees soft to prevent hyperextension, bend forward from the hips. Extend (i.e. straighten and lengthen) the spine as you bend forward.
- As you bend, draw your lower belly in to make room for your torso against your thighs. Fill the space between your lower belly and your upper thighs by pressing your torso towards your thighs. Lead with your chest, not your head (in the most literal sense).
- Once you’ve bent as far forward as your hamstrings will allow, relax your torso. Instead of straining to move deeper into the pose, let gravity draw your upper body gently towards the mat.
- Reach towards the floor. Grab hold of your big toes with the peace fingers (your pointer and middle fingers) of your corresponding hand. Inhale and straighten up – extending your spine, straightening your arms, and looking forward.
- If your hamstrings are flexible, straighten your knees completely. Engage the muscles surrounding the knee caps to prevent hyperextending your straight knees. Shift your weight forward, so that your legs are perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale and, once again, bend forward. Rest your gaze on a point behind you.
- Internally rotate your thighs by drawing the tops of them in towards each other. This will lengthen your back horizontally, protecting it and aligning the hamstring muscles that run along the inner thighs.
- Inhale. Extend your spine to prevent the back from rounding and to keep space between your shoulders and ears.
- Exhale. Draw your lower belly in to drop deeper into the pose. As you drop closer to the mat, bend your elbows to the sides and gently pull your torso towards your legs.
- Breath and hold the pose. With every inhale, recommit to the spinal extension, with every exhale, recommit to the bend.
- Place your hands on your hips. Inhale. Come straight up into mountain pose, lifting from the hips and keeping the spine extended.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Place a rolled up blanket under the balls of your feet. To deepen the stretch through the hamstrings and Achilles tendons in the backs of the calves, place a rolled up blanket under the balls of your feet in step one (above). Keep your heels planted firmly on the mat. This will angle the feet upwards, so that the stretch is more intense through the backs of the legs.
Hold a rolled up blanket between your upper thighs and your lower belly. Yoga blogger Mary Scott suggests placing a rolled up blanket against your hips as you bend forward in step two and three (above). The blanket will encourage you to draw your lower belly in and place your torso firmly against your upper hips. Practice first with the blanket, then remove the blanket to see the difference.
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana). This pose is a supine variation of big toe pose that, in particular, encourages the habit of keeping the back straight, not rounded, in forward folding poses. Begin lying supine on the mat. Inhale and lift your right leg straight up. Lift your right arm and, with your two peace fingers, take hold of the big toe of your right foot. Keep your back and shoulders flat against the mat. If you cannot reach your toes without lifting your right shoulder, wrap a strap around your right foot and hold the end of the strap instead. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale. Lower your right foot down. Repeat on the left side.
Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana). This challenging variation is a balancing pose that requires very flexible hamstrings to pull off. Begin in mountain pose. Place your hands on your hips. Then, inhale and lift your right leg. Take hold of the big toe of your right foot with the peace fingers of your right hand. Straighten your right foot parallel to the floor or, if you can, higher. Keep your back extended and your shoulders back by pressing the bottom corners of your shoulder blades together and forward. Carefully rotate your right leg to your right side. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale. Bend your right leg. Then release your hand. Lower your right foot to the floor. Repeat on the left side.
Hand to Foot Pose (Padahastasana). Hand to foot pose is a deeper variation of the classic uttanasana. Instead of step six (above), place your right hand under your right foot, palm facing up and wrist in front of your toes, and your left hand under your left foot in the same way. When you exhale in steps nine and ten, bend your elbows to the sides as you drop deeper into the pose. Hand to foot pose doesn’t include a pull like big toe pose, but it can be just as deep. Remember, don’t turtle – press the inside bottom corners of your shoulder blades forward to keep space between your shoulders and ears.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). This gentler standing forward fold will ease you toward big toe pose and its variations if you aren’t quite there yet. In step five (above), do not take hold of your toes. Instead, leave your arms hanging or take hold of the elbows of your opposite arms. Let gravity draw you towards the mat. When you exhale in steps ten and eleven, keep the arms loose.
Purely in terms of the body’s muscles, big toe pose lengthens the major muscles in the back of the body – from the back to the glutes to the hamstrings. It is an indispensable stretch, as part of yoga or any other athletic routine, because it is so comprehensive.
Drawing the lower belly in as you bend forward massages the abdominal organs. The action relieves gas, constipation, and indigestion and, over time, improves digestive function in general. According to guru Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the pose also offers the benefits of improved vitality, improved metabolism, and a boost in nasal and throat health.
Inversions like big toe pose also relax the nervous system, relieving stress and calming the mind. Big toe pose can relieve headache, insomnia, and the symptoms of menopause. Because it involves an active pull, the pose’s relief usually comes after the pose is over, instead of during it.
Do not attempt big toe pose if you:
- have serious back problems.
- have sciatica.
- have high blood pressure.
- have heart disease.
- have an abdominal hernia.
Big toe pose is technically an inversion (although the hips are only half inverted), so women on their periods should exercise caution practicing it.
Forward bends and backbends go so well together, because they stretch, alternatively, the back of the body and the front of it. While it is not essential, like it is for intense backbends, to immediately follow up big toe pose with a backbending posture, consider pairing big toe pose with bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), camel pose (ustrasana), or wheel pose (chakrasana) for best results.
Triceps surae muscles. The triceps surae consist of the gastrocnemius, in the back of the calf, and the soleus, in the front of the calf. These muscles stabilize the ankles and provide the power when walking and jumping. Big toe pose stretches the gastrocnemius for more flexible, more resilient calf muscles.
Hamstring muscles. The hamstrings are the three long muscles that run along the back of the thigh. They extend the hip, flex the knee, and rotate the lower leg. Big toe pose stretches through the hamstring muscles, adding flexibility. For best results, be sure to internally rotate the thighs to stretch the inner hamstrings as well.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Big toe pose stretches the gluteus maximus and the outsides of the gluteus minimus.
Quadratus lumborum muscle. The quadratus lumborum is located deep in the abdominal wall. When it is short and weak, the muscle is often attributed to lower back pain. Pulling the torso towards the legs in big toe pose stretches and lengthens the quadratus lumborum.
Erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles is closely linked with posture. Big toe pose lengthens the deep back muscles of the erector spinae.
Biceps brachii muscles. The biceps brachii is a two-headed muscle that lies along the front of the upper arm. It is responsible for flexing the forearm and turning the palm in. Pull exercises, like bicep curls, work the biceps brachii. Pulling into the forward bend actively with the arms in big toe pose strengthens the biceps.