Why adjusting utthita hasta padangusthasana can be helpful
Balancing on one foot can be challenging! This is especially true if we add in tight hips and/or tight hamstrings that can make it more difficult for students to line up the body in gravity. Adjusting utthita hasta padangusthasana can help students get a sense of what it will feel like when they can balance on their own. Supporting this posture with appropriate physical adjustments can help students’ nervous systems develop the proprioception necessary to both balance and move their body in space in a new way.
A good adjustment starts with making observations. There are multiple aspects of utthita hasta padangustasana that we might want to emphasize depending on who is doing the posture and where they are in their overall practice.
Some questions we might ask as we observe students before adjusting utthita hasta padangusthasana include:
- How is their balance generally? Have they already developed their proprioception somewhat? Or, is this something they are challenged by?
- How tight or open are their hamstrings?
- How tight or open are their hips?
- What is their foot on the floor doing in this pose? (Remember this is their base in this pose.) Does the foot on the floor want to rotate in? Rotate out? Is the arch of that foot active/lifted?
- Which direction is the knee of their standing leg pointing? Towards the inside? Towards the outside? Or, straight ahead?
Intention and technique
There are two intentions that I primarily emphasize when adjusting a student in utthita hasta padangusthasana: grounding and length. Let’s take a look at the grounding intention first.
In general I want to be helping the student find a feeling of grounding throughout the time I am adjusting them in utthita hasta padangusthasana. As a balancing posture, this intention is a key part of the work of the pose. To convey this feeling of grounding, I need to first be sure that my own body is grounded and stable before I take any of their weight. I also need to keep checking in and feeling for how balanced they are as I am grounding them throughout this pose, to be sure that I’m not knocking them off balance.
I often begin to create this grounding intention by giving some pressure downward from the upper trapezius, just on either side of the neck. Then I might check their base — their standing leg and foot — to see whether their toes look relaxed. If their toes look like they are trying desperately to grip the floor, that’s a cue that I might be taking them a little off-balance. Simply helping a student establish a sense of grounding can be a great intention to work with when adjusting utthita hasta padangusthasana. When students feel grounded, balanced, and stable, they will commonly look to work deeper into the other aspects of the pose on their own.
As students fold forward in the first part of utthita hasta padangusthasana, I might want to add a second intention of length. I can do this by helping them lift the leg and then encourage length in their torso with my hand on their back as they fold. When working with the intention to add length in the hamstrings of the lifted leg, I want to be mindful not to overdo it with the hamstring stretch. Feel and sense what range of motion students have for each leg. It may be different on each side and it can be different from one day to the next. I could then return to a grounding intention as they transition out of the fold.
Remember, we have two ranges of motion, unassisted and assisted. I cover this at length in the Hands-On Adjustment videos. This understanding is key to knowing how far to take, or let, a student go in the lengthening aspect of this adjustment. Hamstrings and forward bends are an easy place to develop the skills involved in feeling the second range of motion.
Supporting the transition
There is a lot going on in this pose, particularly with respect to developing proprioception. Not only are we balancing on one foot, but in the middle section of utthita hasta padangusthasana we are moving our body in one direction and taking our gaze in the opposite direction. This is an additional challenge to our proprioception.
When adjusting a student through the transition to take the leg out to the side, I will generally continue grounding them by sending some pressure down through my hand on the outside of their neck. In this section of the pose, I’ll also want to feel and sense for the moment the student has to shift their weight to accommodate taking the leg to the side, and then again as they bring the leg back to the center. After the student brings the leg back to the center, I can add an intention of length as they fold, by placing my hand on their back and helping them lift the leg in the same way that I did in the first part of the pose.
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David explains why over-stretching connective tissue along the spine might contribute to feeling a burning sensation in the lower back after forward bending.