Double Toe Hold is a seated, balancing yoga posture that stretches the legs and strengthens the core muscles. Holding both toes while balancing on the sit bones requires serious concentration!
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Ubhaya Padangusthasana" (oob-HA-yah pahd-ahng-goosh-TAHS-uh-nuh), comes from four words:
- "Ubhaya"—meaning "both"
- “Pada” — meaning “foot”
- “Angusta” — meaning “big toe”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
This literally translates to "Both Big Toe Pose." It is also commonly called "Double Toe Hold" or "V Pose." This pose is one of the more challenging postures in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series. In Ashtanga, it is part of a sequence in which the student starts by lying on the back, then rolls backward into Plow Pose (Halasana), and then forward into Double Toe Hold. However, you can also perform the pose by starting in Boat Pose (Navasana), as described in the Instructions, below.
Benefits of Double Toe Hold Pose
What elevates the practice of asanas from exercise to yoga… is intelligent action and the infusion of awareness throughout your entire body when practicing the poses.
Double Toe Hold builds strength through the core muscles, including the abdomen and the entire back. It also stretches the hamstrings and calves, while lengthening and warming up the spine. It challenges and improves full-body balance and coordination, improves digestion, and can relieve back pain. This pose is particularly beneficial for developing mental and emotional equilibrium. The concentration and focus required to hold the pose creates a calm and serene mind, reducing stress, anxiety, and over-thinking.
Do not practice Double Toe Hold if you are currently experiencing high blood pressure or eye problems, such as a detached retina. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this pose. Those with neck injuries can practice this pose with their backs and heads supported against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin seated with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands beside your hips. With your spine straight, lean back slightly and lift your feet, bringing your shins parallel to the floor. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).
- Draw your knees in close to your torso. Reach your hands in between your legs and hold onto your big toes by creating a loop with your thumbs, index fingers, and middle fingers.
- Draw your low back toward your legs. Then lift your chest and lengthen the front of your torso. Balance on your sit bones, keeping your spine straight. Take care not to let your lower back sag or chest collapse.
- Slowly begin to straighten your legs as much as possible, eventually bringing your body into a "V" shape. Keep your spine long and straight. If you feel your back rounding, stop straightening your legs.
- Lengthen the front of your torso from your pubic bone to the top of your sternum. The lower belly (the area below your navel) should be firm and somewhat flat, but not hard or thick.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Gaze at your "third eye," the space between your eyebrows. If you are comfortable balancing in the full pose, tilt your head back slightly to open your throat.
- Hold for five breaths. To release, draw your knees back into your chest. Release your toes, and then exhale as you release your feet and hands to the floor.
Modifications & Variations
Double Toe Hold will challenge your core muscles and your hamstrings when practiced in correct alignment. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- For assistance straightening your legs, wrap a strap around the soles of both feet. Hold the strap firmly with both hands. Press your feet against the strap as you lift and lengthen your legs.
- If it's difficult to balance, set a folded, firm blanket behind your tailbone for extra support.
For a greater challenge, try the sequence performed in Ashtanga Yoga by moving from Plow Pose directly into Double Toe Hold:
- Begin by lying flat on your back. Exhale as you bring both legs up and over your head, resting your toes on the floor. This is Plow Pose (Halasana).
- Reach your arms overhead and clasp your big toes.
- Inhale as you roll up, coming into a balanced Double Toe Hold. Then exhale as you release your feet to the ground, coming into a seated position.
- Stronger students can work toward pointing the toes directly toward the ceiling, keeping their spines fully upright. Extend the elbows out to the sides and press the chest against the legs. This variation is called "Upward-Facing Intense West Stretch I" (Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana I).
Practicing Double Toe Hold will build strength and power in your torso, legs, and mind! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- It's more important to keep your spine straight and the front of your torso long than it is to straighten your legs. If your spine is rounding, either bend your legs or use a yoga strap. Just be sure your front and back torso stay long and upright throughout the pose.
- Keep both legs active throughout the pose. Engage your thigh muscles and draw your kneecaps toward your upper thighs.
- Keep your gaze soft, but focused throughout the pose.
- The lower front of the belly should never get hard. Although it will get firm, it should not puff forward or become thick. If it does, make a modification until you have built up enough strength that it does not become hard.
Lift & Balance
Double Toe Hold is a challenging pose that requires practice, patience, and a calm mind. It can be powerful and transformative to balance your entire body while using all of your core muscles! Remember to keep your mind calm and breathe smoothly throughout the pose. With dedication, your flexibility and your ability to balance — even off the mat — will improve.