About Prasarita Padottanasana
The beginning of practicing inversions in one?s yoga practice is Prasarita Padottanasana, or Wide Legged Forward Bend. In this posture, the head rests below the heart allowing the heart to more easily send oxygenated blood to the brain. For this and other reasons, the posture is excellent for relieving headache, mild depression, and enlivening a sluggish mind for intellectual pursuits. It also relieves mild back pain. It helps to alleviate tension, and calms the brain. The asana strengthens and lengthens the inner thighs, the hamstrings and the whole length of the spine. It also tones the abdominal muscles, and the organs behind the abdominals.
Benefits of Prasarita Padottanasana
All inversions practiced correctly in yoga have tremendous benefits for the immune system, the brain and the regulation of hormonal activity. When we are upside down, gravity is turned on its head, literally, and the pineal and pituitary glands become activated to help rejuvenate the body. Further, the neurovascular bundles (groups of nerves) up and down the length of the spine and through the body accumulate fluid as part of the lymphatic system?s regular process. (The lymph system is primarily what brings leukocytes to different parts of the body to fight disease, and also nutrients to cells, and thus is an important part of the immune system.) These white blood cells do not have peristaltic abilities, which means they have a difficult time moving through the body when the fluids are backed up. Yoga inversions help to actively circulate lymphatic fluid from head to toe, thus helping to deliver cellular nutrients where the body needs it, and ridding the body of infection as well. Finally, the brain is recharged and rejuvenated with inversions due to increased blood flow, and according to the yogic tradition, the ?nectar of enlightenment? called amrita bindu is awakened with the free flow of kundalini energy to Sahasrara Chakra, the crown chakra. This nectar is thought to elongate life reverse the biological aging indicators and increase spiritual and intellectual power.
How to Perform Prasarita Padottanasana
To begin practice of this asana step to the center of the mat so that your body is perpendicular to one of the long edges. Step or hop your feet out to a wide stance. Your feet should rest just under the wrists of the outstretched arms if you were to lift the arms parallel to the floor. Taller people may need to step a bit further apart, and beginner?s may need to modify the posture by taking their stance to a smaller angle. Ground the feet and roll gently to the outer foot to protect the knees. If you make this subtle change you will feel the outer hip muscles engage slightly. Conversely, if you roll the foot inward, you will feel the inner thighs engage. Rolling to the outer foot will protect the knees as you ground your feet to the mat. Take a deep breath and fold forward allowing the hands to first just graze the floor, and lengthen the spine. Try to send the sit bones to the ceiling form here. Just this subtle change will send a sensation of a deeper stretch into the backs of the legs. Keep lifting the sitting bones and grounding the heels as you fold the rest of the way forward, in a complete forward fold, unless this is contraindicated for you due to lower back issues. From here, rest the head in a neutral position. Do not hold it in place.
Allow the arms and shoulders to relax also, and though you are resting the crown of the head toward the floor, gently pull the shoulders away from the ears to keep the neck muscles long and relaxed. You can allow your arms to rest where they are comfortable, hanging from the shoulder socket or you can reach the arms to the heels, taking your grip either inside or outside of the ankle bones, depending on your level of flexibility. From here, you are aiming to eventually get the crown of the head to relax and touch the floor in a straight line between the two feet. The full posture is a rather intense stretch for most beginning students, so do not rush brining the head to the floor, nor to line up between the feet. The more you lift the sitting bones and relax through the back of the legs, the longer the spine will become as you relax the surrounding muscles. Try to widen across the sternum and breath deep across the chest. In addition, widen the base of the spine by breathing into it.
Women should not attempt a head stand if they are pregnant or having their menstrual cycle. If a full Sirshasana is not yet in your reach, then just practice the primary pose, hold for several deep breaths, and then roll up slowly through the spine. At the top, either step or hop the feet back to Tadasana. If you feel light-headed or dizzy at all, pause and take a breath or two before continuing with more asana. Many beginning students are not used to having so much rich, oxygenated blood flood the brain, even though it is beneficial. This is not the case; however if you have low or high blood pressure, in these cases, you should consult your doctor before practicing this asana.
Modifications for Prasarita Padottanasana
Another option for the arms is to place them in tripod position near the head so that you can see your thumbs in your peripheral vision. You can press the hands firmly into the floor as preparation for one day drawing the legs in and up from Wide Legged Forward Bend, to a full headstand (Sirshasana), and then rolling back down when finished with the headstand to arrive back in Wide Legged Forward Bend, gently replacing the feet to the floor and rolling up from the floor slowly.
Contraindications for Prasarita Padottanasana
Contraindications for this asana are severe lower back pain. If this is an issue for the practitioner, they can lift the heart to bring it parallel to the floor, and rest with the hands on the floor with a long spine.
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