Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose is an intermediate yoga posture that stretches the backs of your legs while challenging your balance. It is a great preparatory pose for deeper hamstring stretches, such as Standing Split (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana) and Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana).
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana" (oo-TEE-tah HAHS-tuh pahd-ahng-goosh-TAHS-uh-nuh), comes from five words:
- "Utthita" — meaning "extended"
- "Hasta"— meaning "hand"
- “Pada” — meaning “foot”
- “Angusta” — meaning “big toe”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
This pose also goes by various English translations: "Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose," "Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose," "Big Toe Hold," "Standing Big Toe Pose,” and others. As you might guess, the big toe of the extended foot plays a major role in this pose! Keep reading to learn more.
Benefits of Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose
When you practice yoga, not only does it give you that hour on the mat to feel calm and refreshed, it also gives you insight into and perspective on how you're living your life.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles. It deeply stretches the hamstrings (the back thigh muscles), while gently opening the hips, shoulders, and arms. This pose challenges and improves your sense of balance, which in turn develops greater concentration and focus.
Do not practice this pose if you have a recent or chronic ankle or low back injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet together and arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and draw your awareness to the present moment. Let your mind be calm.
- Shift your weight to your left foot. Very slowly, draw your right knee up toward your chest. Bring your right arm to the inside of your right thigh. Then loop your index and middle fingers around your right foot’s big toe. Place your left hand on your left hip.
- Straighten your spine. Strongly engage your abdominal muscles and the muscles of your left leg. Straighten your left leg, but do not lock your knee.
- On an exhalation, extend your right leg forward. Straighten your right leg as much as possible.
- Keep both hips squared forward and keep your spine straight. Do not scrunch your neck or shoulders; keep them soft and relaxed.
- Drop your right hip slightly so it is in line with your left hip. Bring your awareness to your midline — the line that runs directly down the center of your body.
- Hold for 5-20 breaths. To release, draw your knee back into your chest, then slowly lower your foot to the floor. Come back to Mountain Pose. Then repeat on the opposite side for the same amount of time.
Modifications & Variations
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is a deep stretch when practiced in correct alignment. If you have tight hamstrings, this pose may seem impossible and unrealistic! But with patience and dedication, your flexibility will improve. Just remember to take it slowly and never force the pose. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If you cannot reach the toes of your raised leg, practice Standing Knee Hug until you have gained more flexibility.
- If you cannot straighten your lifted leg while keeping your spine straight, try using a strap instead of your fingers. Wrap a yoga strap around the ball of your foot. Hold the strap in your same-side hand and then straighten your leg.
- To support the lifted leg as you gain strength and flexibility, rest your raised foot along the top edge of a chair, table, or ballet barre. You can also press the raised foot against a wall.
- To deepen the pose, fold your torso forward toward your lifted leg.
For a greater challenge, try holding up your extended leg without your hand:
- Come into the full version of the pose.
- Release the clasp on your toes and rest both hands on your hips.
- Keep lifting your extended leg.
- Hold for up to 10 breaths, then slowly release your foot to the floor.
- For a deeper hip and thigh stretch, perform Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose B (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B) by reaching your extended leg out to the side while still holding your big toe.
Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose will challenge your muscles and your mind! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- It's more important to keep your spine straight and your shoulders relaxed than it is to straighten your lifted leg. You can keep your lifted leg bent, or use a strap if you need to, but be sure your spine stays tall and upright throughout the 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. You will gain flexibility in time.
- Keep the knee and foot of your standing leg facing directly forward.
- Focus on the stretch, not on the lift! It doesn't matter how high your leg goes if you don't have correct alignment. Work toward maintaining an equal balance of energy and effort in both legs.
- Take it slowly and don't be afraid to fall! If you do fall, simply get back into the pose and try again.
Stand Tall to Stretch
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana will stretch your legs and boost your balance! This powerful pose will provide your practice with a mental and physical challenge. Remember to take it slowly, and be sure to modify the pose as needed. With practice, your flexibility and your ability to balance will improve.