If you run, bike, swim, play sports, lift weights, or spend a lot of time sitting down, you might be familiar with tight hamstrings! These rear thigh muscles can get stiff from both overuse and underuse, but practicing yoga regularly helps to increase the flexibility of these muscles. Reclining Big Toe Pose (also sometimes called "Supine Big Toe Pose") is a gentle hamstring stretch that can be modified for all levels. Incorporating this pose into your yoga practice or post-workout stretching routine will create a greater range of motion in your thighs, which will enhance all of your activities!
The Sanskrit name for this pose, “Supta Padangusthasana” (SOOP-tah pahd-ahng-goosh-TAHS-uh-nuh), comes from four words:
- “Supta” — meaning “reclining”
- “Pada” — meaning “foot”
- “Angusta” — meaning “big toe”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
When it comes to hamstrings, it's important to remember that yoga is not a competition! You can't force your hamstrings to stretch — in fact, pushing too hard can make them even less flexible. Take your time, be patient, and always modify the pose with a strap until your flexibility increases.
Benefits of Supta Padangusthasana
This gentle hamstring stretch helps to open the hips and reduce low back pain. It also stretches the groins and calves, while strengthening the knees. It can be therapeutic for sciatica, flat feet, high blood pressure, and infertility. This pose also stimulates the prostate gland and improves digestion.
In addition to these benefits, Supta Padangusthasana develops patience, relaxation, and surrender. If you try to rush the pose, seeking a deeper opening of the hamstrings, you might notice that you can't. Your hamstrings simply won't allow it. This pose is a gentle reminder that striving toward a goal isn't the goal of yoga. The practice of yoga happens when you surrender to the moment and work patiently with your current abilities — not the abilities you wish you had! So, remember to take it slowly and enjoy the benefits as you gain them, no matter how long it takes.
Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing headaches or diarrhea. Those with high blood pressure should rest their heads and neck on a firm blanket. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms resting at your sides. Relax your breath. Let your thoughts settle.
- With an exhalation, bend your right knee and hug your thigh to your chest. Keep your left leg extended along the floor. Wrap the strap around the ball of your right foot and grasp one end of the strap in each hand. Keep your grip soft, but not loose.
- Exhaling, reach through your heel to straighten your knee, extending your heel to the ceiling. Keep your right foot flexed and your buttocks equally balanced on the floor. Lift through the ball of your right big toe.
- Draw slightly down on the strap. As you do, let the head of your thigh bone (the part of the bone that connects in the hip socket) release and rest in your pelvis. Feel your lower back press into the ground.
- Press your shoulder blades lightly into the floor and broaden across your collarbones. Lengthen the back of your neck. Relax the muscles of your buttocks on the floor.
- Softly gaze at your right big toe or at a single spot on the ceiling if you can't see your toe.
Hold for 1-3 minutes.
- For a deeper stretch to the inner thighs and groins, place the strap in your right hand and turn your leg outward to the right. Initiate the turning movement from the head of your right thigh bone, not from your heel. Keeping your left thigh pressing down, lower your right leg all the way to the right. Let your toes hover a few inches above the mat, keeping your leg outwardly rotated. Hold for 30 seconds, and then draw your heel back up toward the ceiling.
- Exhale as you draw your knee into your chest and let go of the strap. Then, release your leg completely and extend it along the floor.
- Repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.
Modifications & Variations
Supta Padangusthasana can be a relaxing way to stretch your legs, hips, and low back. It's important not to push yourself too hard in this pose, though. Otherwise, you could end up with an injured body instead of a flexible one! Make the following modifications to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If your hamstrings are very tight, your raised leg might be more horizontal than vertical when it's extended. That is perfectly fine. To make the pose more accessible, you can bend the knee of the resting leg, placing that foot flat on the mat. This will allow your low back and sit bones to drop to the mat, reducing stress on your back. You can also raise the heel of the lower leg by resting it on a block.
- Beginners and those with tighter hamstrings can also practice this pose with the heel of the bottom leg pressed against a wall. This helps to teach the extension of the lower leg.
- To help support the groins when opening the leg to the side, place a block just outside the hip of the raised leg. When you open your leg to the side, rest your upper thigh on the block.
- In addition to opening your raised leg to the side, you can also stretch it across your body. This provides a mild spinal twist and a stretch to the outer hips. Hold the strap in your opposite-side hand, and exhale as you extend your leg across your torso. Reach your heel to the opposite side, and then inhale to raise your leg back to center.
- If you are more flexible, you can hold onto the big toe of your raised foot, instead of using a strap. After you draw your knee into your chest, clasp your first two fingers and thumb of the same-side hand around your big toe. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor, and keep your arm on the inside of your thigh. Then, straighten your leg.
Supta Padangusthasana can benefit all yoga practitioners, no matter what your level. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Be sure to use a strap and make any other adjustments you need to ensure that you're not pushing yourself too hard in this pose. Be patient, and you will gain flexibility in time.
- It might be difficult for beginners to feel the head of the thigh bone releasing into the pelvis. If this is the case, keep your breath steady and smooth. Bring your awareness to the thigh of your raised leg. As you relax in the pose, you may begin to feel the leg releasing and relaxing downward.
Relax into Flexibility
If you have tight hamstrings, it may seem like they'll never get flexible. Be patient! Practice Supta Padangusthasana every day, and be sure to modify the pose as needed. Over time, your hamstrings will relax — and so will your mind.