Standing Separate Leg Stretching

(Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimotthanasana)


Beginners: Many people teach students to straighten their legs, bend at the waist, and grab the ankles or even the calves. I prefer you to bend the knees, place the fingers under the middle (outside) of the feet, and separate the legs as far as possible without losing the grip. Think about it: by not placing the fingers under the feet you’re just straightening the legs, but when the fingers are under the feet you’ve created leverage for the hamstrings to stretch, just like last month’s posture of the month, Hands to Feet Pose or Padhathansana. Make sure the weight stays toward the middle front part of the feet and be patient. Only work one inch at a time. Remember the biggest mistake in yoga is going too far too soon. Gradually increase your intensity and strength.


Intermediate: It’s best to treat the first and the second set differently. The first set is a warm-up or awareness set. Go slow enough to find your starting point, allowing the body to soften and respond to the pose. Halfway into the posture, begin to use your strength and separate your legs as far as possible so you can touch your forehead on the floor easily. In the second set, bring your legs closer together so it’s almost impossible to touch your forehead on the floor. If you’re touching in the second set, there’s nowhere else to go. But by keeping at least six inches between your forehead and the floor, you give yourself room to improve. Draw an imaginary line from one big toe to the other. That is where your forehead should touch. Many students avoid or detour from the stretch by bringing the forehead too far in front of that line. Imagine a straight line from your tail bone, all the way down your spine, to your forehead. So don’t crunch or compress your neck by looking in the front mirror, instead align the neck vertebra with the back vertebra.


Advanced: In the beginning of the first set, relax.   At your level, this part becomes an oasis. Use this time to recover, and find your energy and life force (prana). Start becoming aware of how the prana is being accessed and distributed through your physical and ethereal bodies. As we slow down, we can more easily be aware of how this subtle energy is awakened. Through your thoughts (the practice of Raja Yoga), channel this energy into the areas of the body that the posture is targeting. In the second half of the pose, begin to add intensity and arm strength by pulling (the grip for students who touch the floor easily is fingers under the heels). Lift your shoulders up to the ceiling to add length to the cervical (neck) vertebra while extending the top of your head to the floor. Keep your elbows on the shins to start, and then turn your elbows toward the front, which allows the middle back (thoracic vertebra) to flatten. As the technique becomes second nature, be present to the experience, which is true for all postures. There’s an old Chinese saying: “It’s like the finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll lose all that heavenly glory.” By being too analytical, the very thing that’s supposed to set us free, in fact, limits us.