Want to learn more about Padangusthasana, or Big Toe Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Padangusthasana, a complete yoga pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, a step-by-step video, modifications and more.
Padangusthasana is a pose that I only ever practiced seated (it’s Paschimottanasana when we do it seated) for the first several years of my yoga adventure. Several of my teachers had come out of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which uses Padangusthasana as part of the Primary Series. But by the time I met them, they were Anusara teachers and Padangusthasana was not a part of the Anusara syllabus — so we never practiced it.
It’s also possible that some teachers avoid teaching Padangusthasana because it can confuse students of Bikram and other hot yoga studios. Hot yoga students have a totally different pose called Padangusthasana, which is generally called Toe Stand Pose.
In Hatha yoga, the pose hot yogis call Padangusthasana is generally called Ardha Baddha Padma Padangusthasana, which is admittedly quite a mouthful. I can see why the pose name was shortened by B.C. Ghosh in the 1920s.
(That’s right, it wasn’t actually Bikram who coined the name. You can read more about this in the Myths & Misconceptions section below.)
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Padangusthasana Quick Facts
|English||Big Toe Pose|
|Meaning||Pada means foot.|
Angusta can mean big toe or thumb.
Pandangusta, by adding the word “pada” (foot) it clarifies that we are referencing the big toe.
Asana means pose or posture.
Padangusthasana quite literally means Big Toe Pose.
Bikram Yoga and other hot yoga schools that are offshoots use Padangusthasana as the Sanskrit word to describe a different pose that is called Toe Stand Pose in English, or Ardha Baddha Padma Padangusthasana in Hatha yoga schools.
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Padangusthasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
Padangusthasana provides a deep stretch from head to toe which helps release tension and relieves pain.
The main physical benefits of Padangusthasana include:
- Builds strength in the arches of your feet which helps “fix” flat feet.
- Strengthens your quadriceps.
- Stretches your hamstrings.
- Strengthens your calf muscles.
- Strengthens your erector spinae.
- Stretches your gluteus maximus.
- Strengthens the adductors of your legs and hips.
- Elongates your spine.
- Strengthens your hip flexors.
- Strengthens your abdominal muscles.
- Strengthens your knee joints.
- Helps improves hip flexibility.
- Can help to improve overall balance.
- Can help relieve tension in the neck.
- Can help stretch your lower back.
- Your Piriformis muscles are stretched which can help relieve SI joint pain (aka sciatica).
A study of members of an Indian army regiment showed that a regular yoga practice, including Padangusthasana as one of the poses practiced, was beneficial for reducing stress levels.
Of course, looking at the study, you’ll see they practiced 3 hours of yoga every day for 30 days — 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening. It totally makes sense that their stress levels would be reduced since they had three hours every day when they didn’t have to worry about military issues!
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
- If you have ankle, knee, hip or lower back issues, proceed with caution.
- If you are pregnant, depending on where you are in your pregnancy, you may not want to fold forward fully. You can use the support of a chair or wall instead. See Modifications below.
- If you have a lower back injury, Padangusthasana is likely best avoided. Speak to a doctor about your specific injury.
- If you have a neck injury, you may wish to modify or avoid this pose.
- If you have an abdominal hernia, you may wish to modify the pose. See Modifications below.
- If you have lower back pain or herniated vertebral discs in your lower back, you may wish to practice with your knees bent and hands on blocks, on the wall or on a yoga chair. See Modifications below.
- If you have a hamstring injury, bend your knees instead of practicing Padangusthasana with straight legs.
- If you have high blood pressure, take your time lowering your head below your heart, and do not stay in the pose very long.
- If you have low blood pressure, bringing your head below your heart can cause lightheadedness when standing up again. You may wish to avoid putting your head below your heart. If you do practice the pose, before coming up, bend your knees, place your hands on your waist, lift your torso up slowly. As an alternative you can practice Ardha Uttanasana.
- If you have a detached retina, it is best to not bring your head below your heart.
- If you have any injury to your shoulders, neck or any other area of your body, take precautions, modify as needed, and practice carefully.
Misconceptions & Myths About Big Toe Pose
When is Padangusthasana not Padangusthasana?
Bikram Yoga, and other yoga schools that are offshoots, use Padangusthasana as the Sanskrit for Toe Stand Pose. Toe Stand Pose is a balancing pose in Bikram yoga that has been adopted by other yoga practices as well. It looks nothing like the classic Hatha and Ashtanga pose we are discussing in this post.
(Side note: Despite his claims about inventing the Bikram Yoga sequence, Bikram Choudhry actually “borrowed” his sequence from Bishnu Charan Ghosh. Ghosh was the younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self Realisation Fellowship and author of Autobiography of A Yogi. Ghosh had a yoga school in India during the 20s called The Ghosh School, long before Bikram started studying with Krishnamacharya.
The Ghosh School sequence from the 1920s is nearly identical to the sequence Bikram “invented” in the 1970s.)
Yoga and the functioning of your glands
Every time a yoga pose brings your head below your heart, or your heart is lifted above your head, someone out there is going to claim that it affects your endocrine system or helps activate one or more of your glands (like your thyroid, pituitary, pineal, etc).
Now, it is true that these glands play an important role in keeping the human body well balanced. However, it is also true that you cannot take an active part in their functioning. Going upside-down doesn’t change the way your glands function.
Does it cure insomnia?
It is claimed by some that practicing Padangusthasana will cure insomnia.
Try telling that to someone suffering from insomnia. It won’t be long before they get agitated and irritated with your snake oil claims (remember, they have insomnia so they’re already edgy). Doing a yoga pose isn’t going to “cure” your insomnia. It could help, sure. But is it the cure? No. If it were then doctors would just tell everyone with insomnia to do Padangusthasana.
This claim is usually rooted in pseudo-science along the lines of “the circulation of fresh blood to the brain provides calmness and prepares the body for sleep.” Bringing your head below your heart does not change the circulation of your blood. It’s still doing the same thing, whether your head is above or below your heart.
How about massaging your organs?
You may read that forward folds “massage your organs” and that somehow this is beneficial. We don’t advocate massaging your internal organs. Your organs are firm, and are busy doing what they do. You really don’t want to start massaging them.
Padangusthasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Padangusthasana / Big Toe Pose
- Stand in Tadasana with your feet hip distance apart. For a more advanced version of Padangusthasana bring your feet together.
- Stretch your arms up and overhead and stretch your body before folding forward.
- Fold forward and place your hands (fingertips or palms flat) on the ground.
If you can’t keep your legs straight and touch the ground without your back rounding excessively I recommend first practicing Uttanasana and Ardha Uttanasana using the step-by-step guides I have created for you. Once these poses are possible with straight legs, you are ready to progress to Padangusthasana.
- Push down and forward with your hands to help move your chest back towards your thighs. This is Uttanasana.
- Wrap your first two fingers under your big toes and wrap your thumbs over the top of each toe. Bend your elbows slightly out to the sides.
- Pull up with your fingers while also pushing your big toes down into the ground.
- Lift your torso and, as best as possible, bring the natural curves to your back. Straighten your arms and look forward.
- Move your shoulder blades away from your ears and expand your your chest.
- Fold forward as you lengthen your spine. Move from the back of your rib cage towards your thighs to help bring your chest and forehead towards your legs.
- Pull up with your fingers while also pushing the balls of your feet down into the ground.
- Bend your elbows out to the sides and then lengthen through all sides of your neck as you move your shoulder blades away from your ears. Stretch long through your spine.
- Squeeze your legs towards each other and fully straighten your legs (if possible without rounding your lower back). If you have a tendency to hyperextend your knees, work to avoid that here and keep a slight (nearly imperceptible) bend in your knees.
- Bring your forehead to your legs if possible.
- Stay here for a few breaths. This is Padangusthasana.
- To come out, keep holding your toes, lift your chest and straighten your arms. Bend your knees a little, let go of your toes, place your hands on your waist and stand up. Tadasana or Indudalasana make good counter poses.
Note: The final form of the pose is done with feet together. However, feet hip distance apart is more accessible to students. It allows for more movement in the pelvis to fold forward which helps create more space for lengthening your hamstrings.
Modification & Variations
Tips for beginners
Beginners will likely find this pose challenging. Holding your big toes while keeping your legs straight and the natural curves in your spine is a difficult task.
Take your time. Don’t be in a rush to practice this pose with straight legs. Modify the pose by bending your knees as much as you need to to hold your big toes.
This will make it easier to hold your toes. It will also allow you to tilt your pelvis to help bring the natural curves to your lower back (and your entire spine). That’s why bending your knees is a great modification to help you work your way through the two most common misalignments.
If you can’t hold your big toes with straight legs
You can either bend your knees as much as you need to so you can hold your toes, or use a yoga strap under the balls of your feet. If you have access to two yoga straps, you could even make small loops in each strap and wrap them around your big toes, holding one strap in each hand. This will help recreate the form and actions of Padangusthasana better than using one strap under both feet.
If you have an abdominal hernia
The best thing you can do is to bring your hands down onto something. I recommend bending your knees until you can touch the ground. Or, you can get two yoga blocks and place them under your hands.
With your hands on the ground or blocks it will give your hamstrings a chance to release and start to lengthen, which won’t happen if you hang out in this pose with your hands off the ground.
If you are in your late second or your third trimester
You may want to avoid this pose — your belly could get in the way. However, you also may want to keep practicing this pose. It’s your practice and your body. You are a better judge of what is right for you than I am. If you can get your feet wide enough apart so your belly does not press into your thighs, that will help make this pose more accessible.
If you have lower back pain or herniated vertebral discs in your lower back
Make sure you practice with caution. If you have a spinal herniation, you should not bend forward completely. Instead practice Padangusthasana with an arched lower back, with your hands on yoga blocks (you can stack as many as you need). Also, separate your feet so they are at least hip-width apart.
Depending on the position or intensity of your herniated disc, you may not be able to get the blocks high enough and you might want to place your hands on a yoga chair.
If you have sciatica
Bend your knees to protect your lower back and work to bring an arch to your lower back.
If you have high blood pressure
Take your time lowering your head below your heart and do not stay in the pose very long. As an alternative you can practice Ardha Uttanasana.
If you have low blood pressure
Your doctor may advise you to not bring your head below your heart. If that is the case, you should not practice Padangusthasana. As an alternative you can practice Ardha Uttanasana.
Bringing your head below your heart can cause lightheadedness when standing up again. If you know your body and practice and want to practice Big Toe Pose before standing up, bend your knees, place your hands on your waist, and lift your torso up slowly. Don’t hold your breath but breath naturally.
If your back rounds
If your back rounds a lot, you will be better served to work on Uttanasana and Ardha Uttanasana first. Once you can practice these with straight legs and keep the natural curves of your spine, then progress to Padangusthasana.
If you have a hamstring injury
Modify the pose by using a wall. Face the wall and fold forward until just before the point of pain in your hamstrings. Reach out and place your hands on the wall, pushing your hands into the wall and feet into the ground. You can also use the seat, or back, of a yoga chair to support you. It can take a long time to heal a hamstring injury, so please practice patience.
If your knees hyperextend easily
Put a slight and practically invisible bend in your knees so that you do not hyperextend them. Do not over-straighten your legs. By adding the tiny bend to your knee joints you encourage your muscles to support your knees.
Yoga Poses Related to Big Toe Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide Leg Forward Fold
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Uttanasana / Forward Fold
- Parsva Uttanasana / Side Forward Fold
- Parivrtta Uttanasana / Revolved Forward Fold
- Bhujanghasana / Cobra Pose
- Janu Sirsasana / Forehead to Knee Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Supta Pandangusthasana / Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose
- Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana / Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose
- Indudalasana / Standing Side Bend Pose
- Ardha Uttanasana / Half Forward Fold Pose
- Tadasana / Mountain Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Matsyasana / Fish Pose
- Purvottanasana / Reverse Plank Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Padahastasana / Hand Under Foot Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana / Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose
- Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana / Revolved Hand to Big Toe Pose
- Parivrtta Paschimottanasana / Twisted Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana / Half Bound Lotus Forward Fold
- Hanumanasana / Full Splits aka Hanuman’s Pose
- Adho Mukha Vrksasana / Handstand
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Paschimottanasana Benefits & Yoga Pose Tutorial
- Post: How to do Prasarita Padottanasana – Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Yoga Pose Breakdown | Padangusthasana
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Corq Cork Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Pune Yoga Chair
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Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Big Toe Pose
Padangusthasana is a pose I love practicing. It feels like a full-body reset to me, but I have, admittedly, pretty open hamstrings, and forward folds are relatively easy for me. And I get that isn’t the case for lots of you reading this.
If you have tight or weak hamstrings or you find it difficult to activate your hips flexors enough to get into a deep forward fold that’s totally ok. You too can find that “reset” feeling in this pose as long as you practice patience. Check out the handy list of preparatory poses above and add them to your home practice.
Then take the time you need to strengthen what needs strengthening and lengthen what needs lengthening. Practice patience. It pays off.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post helps your find ways that Big Toe Pose can help support you on your yoga adventure, and that it has been helpful in expanding your understanding and possibilities with Padangusthasana.
I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply and I hope this post helps you see this fairly common pose with new awareness and understanding. The more you understand about each pose the more it will help you find the strength and clarity needed to live your adventure to the fullest!