Prasarita Padottanasana, or Expanded Intense Stretch of the Leg Pose, is a gateway to all the forward bends. With legs stretching to their outer limits, this pose allows the practitioner to open the chest widely, conquer fear, and experience actions of an inversion with the legs firmly planted into the ground.
You will need a sticky mat, and 2 blocks for the setup.
First start in Tadasana.
Jump or walk the legs 4 to 5 feet apart. This is the widest base of all the standing asanas.
To assure proper alignment, place the heels at the rear of the sticky mat so you can see they are on the same plane. See that the toes are pointed forward and press back from the top thigh to set the knees firmly into the socket.
Keeping the base of the pose firm, extend your torso forward and place your finger tips on the ground. The extra height with the fingertips will assist in concaving your back. This is stage I.
If you cannot concave your back with hands on the floor, use blocks.
A common mistake here is having the weight in the heels. I am using the plumb line of this wall to illustrate what the pose looks like with the with the weight too far back. This stems from abhinivesa, which is “clinging to life, and fear of death” according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. We don’t want to fall forward. So we have to trust our strong legs to support us to overcome this obstacle in yoga.
To correct, tilt forward until the hip is over the ankle on a vertical plane.
Another mistake at this stage is to overarch the lower back and poke out the tailbone. I often see this in flexible students.
To correct, anchor the tailbone down and lift from the upper back to get the concavity.
Now the real work in the pose begins. You have to challenge the back to keep it’s concave shape and challenge the legs to be firm and straight as you walk the hands back. First bring the hand to be even with the toes.
Then the heels
Then bend the elbows to 90 degrees, place palms and crown of the head onto the floor. The back goes from concave to convex here.
If the head cannot reach the floor, first make sure your hips are coming forward. If they are, then use a block.
Work the arms by rolling them in toward each other. If your elbows are splaying, imagine you have a block in between and squeeze the block. I used a real block to illustrate, even though this block is too narrow for my shoulders it gives you an idea of how to work the arms in this position.
Now you are in the full pose. This is preparing you for inversions. The arm position is the same as Salamba Sirsasana II. Notice the crisp, 90 degree angle of the arms. For beginners, just touch and go. If you are proficient, stay in this stage for 30 seconds. You can build your time up to several minutes.
To safely exit the pose, bring the hands back underneath the shoulders.
Then heel-toe the feet together.
When the outer hips feel they are stable, press your toes down bring the hands to the hips and come back to standing.
Back to Tadasana
This pose is considered the most accessible in the forward bend clan (Paschima Pratana Sthiti). For my raw beginner students, I keep them at Stage I (see above) and have them work the thighs pressing back.