166
THE ASANAS
Floor
This pose and its variations stretch your thighs in a
way that is particularly safe for your lower back. This
can be very relaxing and great for winding down after
a long day. If you are unable to grasp your toes, try
holding onto a strap around the bottom of your foot.
THE BIG PICTURE
The back of your lifted thigh and leg intensely stretch. Your
arms gently pull your leg in, but you should try to relax any
muscles that are not necessary for this action (like your jaw,
neck, and shoulders).
SUPINE LEG
STRETCH
Supta Padangusthasana
Lowered thigh
and lower leg
In this version of the pose,
your lowered thigh and leg are
slightly engaged to stabilize.
Your hip exors are in a
slightly lengthened position,
your quadriceps extend your
knees, and your hamstrings
are slightly engaging. Your
ankle dorsiexors engage
while your plantar exors
are in a neutral or
lengthening position.
Lifted thigh and lower leg
Your hip exors engage while your quadriceps
extend your knee. Your hip extensors
particularly your hamstrings and gluteus
maximus—stretch. As you grasp at your toes
you’ll likely feel your ankle plantar exors
especially your calf muscles—stretching.
ALIGNMENT
Your spine is neutral, or your lower back
may be slightly flexed depending on how
far into the pose you go. Pull your toe in
until you feel a deep but comfortable
stretch in your hamstrings.
Relax shoulders
and neck
Head
resting
Spine
neutral
Hip rotating
inward
Grab big toe
or a strap
around foot
Knee as
straight
as possible
Flexed feet
Vastus lateralis
Rectus femoris
Knee
Biceps femoris (short head)
Biceps femoris (long head)
Iliotibial band
Gastrocnemius
Extensor digitorum longus
Tibialis anterior
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167
Neck
Try to relax your head down
and release your neck muscles,
allowing your neck to maintain
a neutral curve.
Torso
With as few muscles
engaged as possible, your
transversus abdominis
stabilizes your spine.
Arms
Your brachialis, biceps,
and brachioradialis are
engaging to pull toward
elbow exion. Your
triceps stretch.
KEY
Joints
Muscles
Engaging
Engaging while
stretching
Stretching
Transversus abdominis
Spine
Biceps brachii
Brachialis
Triceps brachii
Brachioradialis
Elbow
Adductor magnus
Vastus medialis
Rectus femoris
Semimembranosus
Knee
Rectus femoris
Semitendinosus
Gastrocnemius
Flexor digitorum longus
Soleus
Ankle
Flexor hallucis longus
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168
SUPINE LEG STRETCH
Supta Padangusthasana
CLOSER LOOK
This stretch can be done with or without a strap,
making it accessible for many people. Use your
neurophysiology to your advantage to get a
more eective stretch with mindfulness tricks.
Reach toward your foot with
little to no muscular eort
around your shoulders
Allow your ribcage to
move with your breath
A strap can
help you reach
your foot
Eyes can be
open or closed
Calf muscles
stretch deeply
as foot is flexed
Knee is soft,
not locked
Foot is flexed
(in dorsiflexion)
Elbow is soft,
not locked
VARIATION
If you are unable to reach your toes
without straining, you can hold onto a
strap around the sole of your foot. You
may also bring your leg out to the side to
shift the focus of the stretch to your
groin and inner thighs (adductors).
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169
THE ASANAS
Floor
Release
When you rst go into a stretching pose, you probably feel
a taut pulling in your muscles. After a few breaths, tension
peaks, and sensors in tendons called the Golgi tendon
organ send a protective signal, inhibiting contraction
and resistance in larger muscle bers. This causes that
pleasurable “ahhh” feeling of release.
Stretch reex
Smaller muscle bers with sensors, called muscle
spindles, don’t release as quickly, causing the stretch reex
(which involves muscle contraction to protectively resist
overstretching). Override this by moving gradually
into the pose, allowing muscle bers to slowly
release, to get a deeper stretch without injury.
Reciprocal inhibition
Muscles often work in pairs. You can use reciprocal
inhibition (RI), a protective physiological phenomenon, to
get a deeper stretch safely. To initiate RI, consciously
engage your quadriceps for a few breaths. Nerves in your
quadriceps send a message to the paired hamstrings,
telling them to relax deeper into the stretch.
Kneecap faces
toward the sky
Golgi tendon organ
Ankle flexors
engage
Hamstrings
Sensory signal
to spinal cord
Motor neuron
tells muscle
to contract
Research suggests
a 20–30 second
hold can increase
hamstring flexibility
Motor signal
decreases, allowing
muscle to release
Muscle spindle
Muscle spindles
sense a stretch
Protective
signal to
spinal cord
Motor signal decreases,
hamstrings relax
Quadriceps
LATERAL VIEW
Motor signal
engages quadriceps
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