Hasta padanghustasana reflects April’s joyous opening.
by Charlotte Bell
April’s name comes from the Latin word aperire, meaning “to open,” for nature’s annual opening of blooms and buds. April is the time to let our own bodies blossom as well, not only through the irresistible urge to be outdoors, but also in our yoga practice. Hasta Padanghustasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose) is the perfect pose to express April’s joyous opening.
This is one of a category of poses my students have named “flying poses.” Flying poses are those that express expansion. The root of the pose (whatever’s on the ground) extends deep into the ground, while the rest of the body expands outward and upward, away from the earth. The opening comes from stability.
A mat isn’t necessary for this pose. Place your feet hips-width apart. Close your eyes and become aware of your feet. Feel how the feet constantly make micro-adjustments in order to keep you upright. This is the nature of balance—constant, dynamic adaptation. Balance is not about reaching some “perfect” position and holding onto it; it’s about trusting your body’s own proprioceptive awareness to adjust as needed to keep you dynamically upright.
This is true not only in yogic balance poses, but in the rest of life as well. Balance, then, is about being mindful—and open—to the constant changes inherent in our bodies and in our lives, and responding to these changes with creative ease.
Let your weight rest in your feet. Then shift your body to the right, letting the weight settle into your right foot. Bend your left knee and pick your foot off the floor. Find equilibrium here. When you feel balanced, bend your left knee further until you can take hold of your left foot with your left hand. Hold the outside of the foot or curl your index and middle fingers around the inside of your big toe. Place your right hand on your hip and again, find stability, feeling how your right foot is constantly shifting to keep your body in balance. (If balance eludes you, do this pose standing with your back to a wall. Let your buttocks rest against the wall for additional stability.)
Now, simultaneously, begin to unfurl the right arm and left leg out to their respective sides, opening gradually like a blossoming flower, until they reach full extension. Extend the arm and leg with equal intention, so that they balance each other. Continue to feed your body’s weight into your standing leg.
If your hamstrings and inner thigh muscles are tight enough that straightening your leg (see photo) is currently impossible, place a strap or belt around your left foot and hold the belt with your left hand.
In all balance poses, our minds tend to find the body parts that are moving to be most compelling (in this case, the right arm and left leg). The stable, standing leg is arguably more important, so as you extend the right arm and left leg, keep at least half your awareness in the standing leg. This will help you maintain stability.
When you feel stable in the pose, continue to ground your standing leg and begin to explore expansion through all the limbs, including the head and tailbone. Continue expanding as you breathe slowly and deeply, directing the breath as if you can extend it out into all your limbs, including your head and tailbone. Then release your hold on the left leg. Return to standing equally on both feet as your arms rest at your sides. Close your eyes and feel what happened in the pose. How has your body/mind changed? Then repeat the pose on the other side.
Remember that expansion comes from stability. Every blossoming tree and flower expands from its roots. So do our bodies. Hasta Padanghustasana teaches us about the dynamic relationship between stability and openness. Explore this relationship in your yoga practice, and watch how it expands into the rest of your life.
Charlotte Bell is a yoga teacher, writer and musician who has taught yoga and meditation along the Wasatch Front and beyond since 1986. She is a longtime CATALYST contributor and the author of “Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life.” http://www.charlottebellyoga.com