Pose of the Month: Standing Big Toe Pose
Some students can’t get enough of this deep hamstring stretch; others want to bolt from the room. How can we make it accessible for everyone?
Have you ever cued a pose, only to immediately realize that it won't work for everyone in your class? When this happens, it can be a bit disconcerting, to say the least. What should you do? Tell everyone, "Never mind?" Apologize and cue something else? Ask whoever can't do it to wait until you're done? No, no and no! Simply offer enough options so that everyone finds an expression of the pose that works well for their body.
Standing Big Toe Pose is a great example of a posture that lends itself well to multiple expressions. Some students love its combination of standing balance, a strong hamstring stretch and a change in drishti, or gaze. But for others, it presents quite a challenge for their tight hamstrings, which makes balancing difficult. Let's break it down.
Main Elements of Standing Big Toe Pose
Scapular Retraction (shoulders back)
Most Challenging Aspects
Keeping the chest open
Staying soft in the knees (not locking the standing leg)
Maintaining spinal alignment
Begin with the YogaFit standard Warm-Up (standing or supine) and a few rounds of Sun Salutations to warm the body.
Hamstrings, Chest, and Spine
Include a few forward folds to warm the hamstrings and prepare them for the big stretch ahead. Lengthen the spine and release any tension in the chest through gentle backbends like Camel; add some extensions like Monkey pose (Ardha Uttanasana) or Airplane and a nice Warrior 3 to give the students a chance to feel the sensation of a well-supported neutral spine.
Options to the Rescue
It’s always good to offer as many options as possible when you teach a new pose, so no one feels left out and everyone reaps the benefits. Remember, options aren't just for making poses easier—they can also allow for greater effort to be expressed. The next time you plan Standing Big Toe in your class, try these options:
Use a strap. Perhaps the simplest way to address tight hamstrings in this pose is to encourage students to use a strap placed around the ball of the foot of the extended leg. The strap allows students to align their posture, without fear of falling, while also enjoying the deep hamstring stretch.
Stand against the wall. For students who say their balance feels a little iffy, standing with their back against the wall is a wonderful way to instill confidence, provide support and allow room for exploration of the pose before balance fatigue sets in. Place the standing foot a few inches away from the wall and then move into the pose with or without the strap.
Place extended foot on the wall. This option is excellent for creating greater dynamic tension (SPA Principles!). Have your students stand far enough away from the wall so that the extended foot can press into it. This allows them to experience greater flexion at the hip and extension at the knee. It also creates a very stabilizing feeling. This option is a great one for both the student wanting support as well as the student looking for more sensation.
No props, no problem. Another wonderful way to explore this pose is to simply bend the knee and hold on to back of the thigh instead of the the big toe. And then play with straightening the knee and bending it several times. This option reduces intensity in the hamstrings, keeps the leg closer to the body which makes balancing easier (Shortens the Lever), and is easy to come in and out of as necessary.
When considering all the people in class with all their various levels of experience and ability, sometimes certain poses may seem impossible. But when you think creatively, there are more options than you realize. Try one or more of these Standing Big Toe options in your next class and let us know how it went. Or if you have a favorite option we didn't include, please share below.