I have been asked why I include Supta Padangusthasana 1 in almost all of my restorative classes. First off, what is Supta Padangusthasana? In Sanskrit, supta means lying down or reclining. Padengusthasana is broken down into three words: Pada, means foot, angustha means big toe, and asana meaning pose. Putting that all together you get, reclining hand to big toe pose. When I teach this pose I do not teach the classic version, but instead use a yoga belt, replacing the hand to big toe part. I do this because most student do not have the mobility in the hip and hamstring which is needed in order to do the pose comfortably. Without the use of a yoga belt, the benefits can be lost. The student lies on the mat, and instead of lifting one leg up and grabbing the big toe with their hand, they place a yoga belt over the foot, and take the pose with this modification, working towards the eventual classic version.
Back to the question, why do i use it in nearly every restorative class. There are a number of reasons I feel this pose is fantastic, whether in a restorative class, or any other class. If this pose is done with integrity and purpose, it can do more than simply stretch out the hamstring and the calf muscle. The first thing this pose accomplishes is simple – it awakens the legs and the foot. It brings an instant awareness to energy within the legs. Is the leg limber or stiff, is it fatigued or energized, is it asleep or awake? With effort, it will awaken and move towards limber and energized. It will increase blood circulation in the legs, hips and low back. This blood will nourish the muscles and stimulate the nerves. It will help remove the fatigue and stiffness in the leg, providing the leg and hip more mobility. It often can relieve some of the pain and discomfort of sciatica. It also provides relief to some knee issues. It helps bring proper movement and range of motion to the hip and the hamstring, both of which affect the sacrum and lumbar spine. With time and practice, sacrum issues and lower back pain often subside as well. With lower back pain, sciatica and knee issues so prevalent in students, I feel that this pose, done in a mindful meditative manner, is a must for many students.
In all the years I have been practicing yoga, I have encountered numerous teachers who understand the theories of asana. They have no problem explaining the most technical points of a pose. A few gifted teachers take it a step further. They understand the most technical points of the pose, but they understand that without the breath, an open curious mind, and a willingness to focus intently without judgement, the practice is nothing more than exercise. They give you the time and space to practice. They do not tell you how to feel. They don’t tell you how to feel because that is your experience. They simply teach the pose, and give you space to breath and have an experience. Then you choose to do a pose like exercise, or you choose to find the beauty and poetry of the pose, and move from the outer to the inner, it is ultimately your decision. Eventually you must climb above the physical struggle and face the ego and its struggle to accept at first the asana, and eventually the life, your life. Your limits, your weaknesses, your strengths and gifts, the dark and the light. There is a delicate balance between, your mat, your world, and yourself. If your practice does not serve you, and enhance your life, then you should make changes, it is pretty simple. Yoga can heal you, can harm you, can change you for better or worse, but it can only do these things with your approval.
In order to let a student find inner wisdom, the teacher must be confident enough to give the student the freedom to seek. A rigid, authoritarian approach will simply decrease the students ability to find that which truly resonates within, and diminish the students experience. Only when a teacher is no longer driven to be perfect, to be all knowing, all powerful, to be the master, will the student grow to full potential. The hard lessons must be softened with kindness, and the truth will emerge. Then, when the student is ready to receive and the teacher is ready to relinquish, wisdom will be found.
If you do not pay attention to your journey, never experiencing the path, the ups, the downs, the way you impact others along the way, and instead only focus on your desires, your goals, your imagined destiny, your hard earned endpoint will often feel empty and satisfaction will be short lived. It is our connection to the journey and our connection to our environment and our fellow humans that creates contentment, fulfillment and happiness.
All of life, passengers on this globe, traveling with limited resources of air, water and soil. All but human kind in synch with each other. Now human kind must step up, and make the hard decisions. We must preserve versus exploit. We can continue to decimate other forms of life for profit, or choose to limit growth and live in harmony with nature. Only with care and work can we ultimately live in security and peace.