Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
How to do it
Begin on your back, both knees bent, feet up, arms along the body.
Inhale: Extend your legs up, raising your arms up over your head.
Exhale: Bend your knees and lower your arms.
Repeat several times, then stay in the pose.
Breathing in Urdhva Prasarita Padasana
Inhale: Lengthen from your tailbone to the top of your head stretching up through the fingertips and flattening the lower back against the ground. Keep the back of the neck long and pull your heels up toward the ceiling.
Exhale: Gradually contract your abdomen and let go of the stretch a bit, loosening up the shoulders, hips and legs.
Hands on knees
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Hands on knees is a simpler version of the pose that emphasizes the stretch on the back of the legs and makes it easier for the neck and shoulders. It’s also useful to compare the degree of the knee extension on the right and left side. If there is some sort of limitation on one side or both – where is it coming from? From the backs of the legs? From the tops of the thighs? From the inner thighs? Or from the knee joint itself? This can be useful in determining which parts of the legs need additional attention.
One foot down
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: One foot down is a good introduction to the pose. It isolates the hamstrings of the extended leg and gives you a chance to evaluate and compare the strength and flexibility of the muscles of your right and left leg. It is also a good warm-up move for hamstrings and knees.
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Fingers interlaced intensifies the stretch in your shoulders and the sides of your torso. Be sure to keep the back of the neck long to avoid stressing it. The legs should be pointing straight up even if you have to bend the knees a bit, otherwise you might pull on your lower back.
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Arm-leg hover is fantastic for working one side of the body at a time. It is particularly effective for releasing tension in the hip flexors and stretching the entire side of the body. Be sure to extend your leg straight down from the hip and keep your toes and your knee pointing up.
One arm, one leg
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: One arm, one leg is effective for working with body asymmetries. Here you work with your body diagonally by extending the opposite arm and leg. This is an example of cross-body movement that is great for coordination and right-left brain integration. If you add turning of the head away from the moving arm (when the arm moves down), you will also stretch your neck and really confuse your brain (great for training attention).
Right-left brain coordination
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Right-left brain coordination is an excellent way to train students’ attention. You really need to focus to get this one right. It usually makes students laugh as they are trying to figure out where their body parts are in space.
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Leg raises specifically targets your hip flexors. Engaging your hips flexors with movement is often more effective than stretching them. This pose adaptation is great for balancing out the relationship between the front and the back of the leg (specifically the quadriceps and hamstrings). Be sure to keep your leg straight and move it along a consistent trajectory without rotating it.
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana: Leg hover targets the relationship between the hip flexors and the lower back. It is very effective for releasing hip flexor tension. It is very important to keep a neutral lower back curve while you hold the leg up and engage the corset by hugging your waist in toward the center with every exhalation.
Dvipada Pitham combo
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana + Dvipada Pitham combo alternately engages and stretches the front and the back of the body. It works great as a stand-alone vinyasa or as a compensation move for other more difficult postures.