Pronunciation: pra-SA-rita pa-dot-ANAS-ana
Translation: ‘Prasarita’ means to spread apart. ‘Pada’ means a foot. ‘Ot’ means intensity while ‘tan’ means to stretch. So the legs are spread widely with an intense stretch. Prasarita Padottanasana means Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend.
This pose is a standing forward bend and also an inversion. It is often suggested for people who cannot do sirsasana, the headstand, so that they get similar benefits which include making the mind tranquil. In this standing pose the body is in a similar position to the one it is in in Upavista Konasana, a seated forward bend with the legs wide.
There are variations in how this pose is done, mostly having to do with how the arms are placed. We give you instructions for what is technically known as Prasarita Padottanasana I. Prasarita Padottanasana II is a more challenging variation with the hands in reverse Namaste, “prayer position”, behind the back.
Building your base: Actions of the Legs and Feet
Stand with your feet parallel to the end of your mat in the middle. Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) standing straight and tall with feet together, hands on your hips. Take a breath in and jump your legs apart a wide distance, a leg length and slightly more. For most, the leg distance should be as wide as possible keeping the feet parallel.
For some, who can easily bring the head to the floor between the parallel feet, the legs should only be as wide as necessary to bring top of the head to the floor with a straight (non-rounded) spine. Keep the feet parallel and rooted into the earth. Raise your toes and reach forward with them. Make sure your arches of the feet are not collapsed.
Activate your quadriceps muscles pulling them up towards the pelvis and in towards the bone. This work in the upper front legs raises your kneecaps (patellae) safeguarding them in the pose. Roll the metatarsal bones in your feet to the outside. This movement will help raise you’re the inner foot arches. Keep all of this work in the active legs and feet throughout the pose.
Inhale and stretch your chest up with a lifted sternum. Exhale and, keeping the spine extended, fold forward from the hips. Your bend should come from the hips and not from the waist. A deep crease at the top each thigh will be formed.
There are various ways of placing your hands in the posture. If you have adequate stretch in your legs, position them palms down so that your fingertips line up with your toe tips. Press your palms into the floor and keep your spine extended. Working from the hips rotate your extended pelvis down until your head reaches the floor. Let your weight be held by the feet and palms of the hands, not on the head. You can put a block or bolster underneath your head if it doesn’t yet reach. This use of a prop makes the pose more cooling and restorative.
Alternatively, do the pose as shown in the photo. Keep the head down. Reach for your ankles or lower shins and grasp them with your hands. Fold at the hips so that your spine comes upside down and is as perpendicular to the ground as possible. Use your arms for leverage to pull your torso. Remember to keep the spine long and extended as you revolve down.
If your torso is not yet perpendicular to the floor with the head on the floor deepen the pose by making your back concave and rolling the shoulder blades back toward your shoulders. Continue to make subtle adjustments to bring your torso more perpendicular to the floor elongate your spine and extend your chest forward through your legs. Stay in the pose for thirty seconds. Inhale and push your torso up using your arms while keeping your spine long and aligned. Rise slowly to an upright position. Bend the knees and jump or step the feet back together into Tadasana.
Use a block, bolster or other prop that will support your hands and head if your head doesn’t yet reach the floor. Over time, as you progress in the pose, work with lower props until eventually your head reaches the floor without needing a higher support.
Regardless of how deeply you can go into the pose it is important to keep straight active legs with lifted kneecaps and a flat back Go slowly with your hamstrings in this posture and if they hurt too much, don’t go any further.
- Soothing to the mind and spirits
- Rinses your energy clean and calms you
- Stretches your hamstrings, toning legs
- Alleviates anxiety and frayed nerves
- Excellent pose for those who cannot do Sirsasana (headstand)
- Helps digestion by calming stomach
- Spine strengthener
- Tones the abdominal organs
- Calming to sympathetic nervous system and brain
- Relieves mild backache and fatigue
- Helps with mild depression
- Lowers blood pressure
- Opens hip joints
- Strengthens knees joints
- Regulates menstrual flow
Contraindications and Cautions
Go easy on those hamstrings as the pose will not give you the calming benefits if you overdo the stretching in the back of the legs.
Be careful as you extend your spine.
If you have lower-back problems, don’t go too deeply in the pose but rest your head and arms on a chair seat to make it easier on your back.
Come out of the pose slowly particularly if you have low blood pressure.
Be careful not to tilt the head or compress the neck if you put it on the floor.
Don’t hyperextend the knees so that they go backward. Lift the kneecaps for protection.