I’ve been exploring so many different poses lately, really exploring them. Not within the flow of a yoga practice but spending time with each pose. This week it is wide legged forward fold, prasarita padottanasana.
Forward folding postures seem to be all about your hamstring stretching, or not stretching. Yes, you will feel your hamstrings in this posture. Don’t underestimate this pose. There are three other hidden experiences within it that I’ve discovered that go well beyond your hamstrings.
When I did Adriene’s video in her Foundations of Yoga video she said pada bandha and that captured my first hidden gem in this pose. Pada means feet in Sanskrit and bandha means a lock, harnessing or bonding. Pada bandha means a harnessing of the feet. Often teachers will talk about your feet in a yoga class, that you may have fallen arches, or weak feet or co-dependent toes. (Perhaps I made that last one up…) It was a lot of talk about dysfunctional feet. I didn’t understand it all, but I did understand that my feet often failed to provide the support I needed in a posture. I’d lose my footing, or fall over or lose my balance.
As time passed and the time on my mat added up over the years, my feet changed. I’m not sure if you measured my arches if they would get a better score. My ankles feel stronger and I can see there is more space between my toes. It’s not those things that I notice, however, it is that my feet seem to be more alive, as in they are harnessed to the floor, they are pada bandha. When I visit Costa Rica (it’s 45 days until I am there again!) those geckos climb all over the ceilings and I wonder about how they stay up there. They have some kind of suction cups type toes. No, I am not able to stick to ceilings yet…but my feet feel more awake and active.
In this wide legged forward fold you really feel your feet, the inner edge and the outer edge, your heel and the balls of your feet and you get to play with how as you fold forward you can balance the pressure in all of those places. Being attached to the floor in this pada bandha way feels secure and provides a solid foundation that reflects the same evolution the solid foundation that I now feel in my life.
The second gem within this pose is the core work that happens as you are folding forward. Adriene really does a great job of helping you explore this. It is mountain pose slowly revolving for a hinge at your hips with a wide open heart the whole time. This is great work for your stabilizer muscles.
The last surprise is the breath, and how it can soften the hamstrings. After almost 15 years of yoga, I am still in awe of what the breath keeps teaching me. When I am down in the full fold of this pose with my head on a block and I shift my weight even slightly I can feel every one of the three strands of the hamstrings. It takes time to just be in this pose, to savor each breath, to just pause and adopt a more yin approach. It’s as if the breath is a warm wave of love flowing through all the tight places to soothe and soften.
Imagine that…what if your breath allowed you to love every tight, holding on, scared part of yourself…every single one of those places…what if? Your mind might not let you go there. Just let it take a break and let your breath be your guide.