Want to learn more about Prasarita Padottanasana, aka Wide-Legged Forward Fold? In this post, I share the benefits of Prasarita Padottanasana, a complete yoga pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, a step-by-step video, modifications, and more.
Prasarita Padottanasana is one of my go-to hamstring stretches. I particularly like it because I find that with gravity pulling your torso down in the forward fold, and the shape of the pose encouraging straight legs, it helps me get deeper into my hamstring stretch than Janu Sirsasana or Paschimottanasana do.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the Prasarita Padottanasana poses (there are 4 variations) are a fundamental part of the practice. Prasarita Padottanasana and its variations are generally done together in Ashtanga as part of a flow to improve strength, balance, and flexibility.
- Prasarita Padottanasana Quick Facts
- Prasarita Padottanasana Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- Misconceptions & Myths About Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Prasarita Padottanasana Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- Yoga Poses Related to Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Wide-Legged Forward Fold
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Prasarita Padottanasana Quick Facts
|English||Wide-Legged (or Wide-Leg) Forward Fold / Forward Bend|
|Meaning||Prasarita means stretched out or extended.|
Pada means foot.
Ut means intense.
Tan means to stretch or extend.
Uttana means an intense stretch or stretched far out.
Asana means pose or posture.
Prasarita Padottanasana means, sort of, Intense Stretch with Feet Stretched Out Pose or, as we normally translate it, Wide-Legged Forward Fold Pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Prasarita Padottanasana 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.
The main physical benefits of Prasarita Padottanasana include:
- Stretches your hamstrings.
- Stretches your adductors (inner thighs).
- Is a hip opener and also involves deep hip flexion.
- Helps find length and release for your spine and neck.
- If you can bring your head to the ground, or a stack of blocks, the pose helps calm your mind.
- Can help release tension in your spine, shoulders and upper back.
- Strengthens your quadriceps and hip flexors.
- Strengthens your core.
- Strengthens your calf muscles and ankle muscles.
- Your shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, back, and legs all get a stretch during the practice of coming into and out of this pose, which helps increase the range of motion for all of these areas, leading to more flexibility.
- Ashtanga Yoga links the four variations in a flow which is said to improve strength, balance, and flexibility.
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 a serious back injury, it is best to avoid Wide-Legged Forward Fold.
- If you have an abdominal hernia, you likely want to avoid deep forward folds like this until you are fully healed.
- If you have low back problems, you may wish to avoid full forward bends and modify them instead. See Modifications section below.
- If you have a disc herniation (this is a common lower back injury), keep your spine parallel to the floor with a concave back and with your hands on blocks or a chair. See Modifications below.
- If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, detached retina, or a shoulder or neck injury, do not keep your head below your heart. You can rest your head on the seat of a chair to keep your head above your heart. See Modifications below for more detailed in formation.
- If you have ankle or groin injury, this pose might be best avoided for the time being.
- During the last month of pregnancy, it is recommended to avoid a forward fold like this — fortunately your body probably won’t let you get into this shape by then so it’s kind of a moot point.
- If you have an injury to your hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, neck, back, or head you may wish to avoid Wide-Legged Forward Fold.
- If you have a migraine or sinus congestion, it’s best not to bring your head below your heart. The pressure increases in your head in a forward bend and if you already have a headache it will likely only get worse by doing a forward fold.
- If you have arthritis in your knees, hips, or shoulders, you may want to avoid Prasarita Padottanasana.
- If you have fibromyalgia, the pressure on the muscles may lead to aches and pain.
Misconceptions & Myths About Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Prasarita Padottanasana is Less Than 100 Year Old
Wide-Legged Forward Fold is one of the more recent yoga poses. It is not found in any of the medieval Hatha yoga texts.
It is believed that Krishnamacharya was the first person to teach Wide-Legged Forward Fold, and it appears in his book, Yoga Makaranda, first published in 1934.
It has since become a standard pose in modern postural yoga, thanks to his students, Pattabhi Jois in his Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and BKS Iyengar in Iyengar Yoga and his text Light on Yoga, both teaching the pose around the world.
Don’t Start Headstand from Prasarita Padottanasana
While it is commonly used as a starting point for Tripod Headstand, I don’t advocate entering Sirsasana 2 (Tripod Headstand) from Wide-Legged Forward Fold Pose.
It is very challenging for many students to bring their head down to the ground in this pose. If you then ask students to go into headstand, their head will likely not be placed on the ground in the proper way for entering headstand. This means your students are not set-up for success — but even worse, they are set up for injury.
Wide-Leg Forward Fold Doesn’t Cure Depression
I believe that yoga teachers need to be very careful with claims that yoga can treat depression. Can it help? Almost certainly. But it is just one piece of the puzzle for working your way through depression. Doing Prasarita Padottanasa isn’t, on its own, going to cure depression.
Yet, this is an actual quote about Prasarita Padottanasana on the internet: “Yoga students… can practice Prasarita Padottanasana to control and heal mild depression symptoms. This healing is done by delivering a fresh supply of blood to the head in the forward bend and also relaxing the nervous system as well as improving the respiratory system.”
Should you really be telling students they can get over their depression if they just practice more yoga? No, you shouldn’t.
Can yoga help with depression? Sometimes. But it’s only one tool in a full suite of strategies and is very unlikely to magically cure depression all by itself.
Prasarita Padottanasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide-Legged Forward Fold
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.
- Stand in Tadasana facing the long edge of your mat.
- Step your feet wide and stretch your arms out to your sides, parallel to the ground. Step your feet wide enough so that your ankles are under your wrists.*
- Place your hands on your waist, stretch long through your spine.
- Flex at your waist and fold forward.
- Place your hands on the ground underneath your shoulders. If you can’t touch the ground (or you have to round your back a lot) bend your needs until you can touch the ground, or place blocks under our hands. See the Modifications section below for more.
- Hug your elbows in so that your upper arms are parallel and lift your shoulders away from your ears.
- Stretch long through your spine and place the top of your head on the ground. If your head won’t come to the ground, you can hang out with your head off the ground (or bring the ground to you). See the Modifications section below.
- Push the outer and inner edges of your feet down, engage your knees, and lift through your ischial tuberosities (sit bones).
- This is Prasarita Padottanasana.
- To come out, bend your knees a little, place your hands on your waist, and stand up, working to keep your spine long as you stand.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana makes a good counter pose for Wide-Leg Forward Bend.
*See da Vinci “Virtuvian Man” for an understanding of why this works. It’s science…
Modifications & Variations
If your back rounds in the pose or it causes lower back pain
You may wish to avoid full forward bends. Or you can see if there is a modification that works for you. You may wish to try this: bend your knees so that you can easily reach the ground — or bring the ground up by placing yoga blocks under your hands. Work for the natural arch in lower back and lengthen your spine as you fold forward. This can help lessen lower back pain.
If you have a herniated disc
Place a chair in front of you. When you come into the pose, keep your spine parallel to the floor, and work to have a concave lower back (your lower back arching in). Place your hands on the back of the chair.
If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma or a detached retina
Do not bring your head below your heart. Instead place a chair in front of you, or practice the pose facing a wall. You can rest your head on the seat of the chair or place your hands on the wall, making sure to keep your head above your heart.
If you easily hyperextend your knees
Micro-bend your knees when doing this pose. To micro-bend means having your joint neither bent not fully straightened. There is a middle ground where the muscles activate to support the joint, but the “bend” isn’t visible to someone looking at you.
Hyperextension of your knees stresses your knee joints in a way they don’t particularly like. When hyperextending, you are not activating your muscles in your legs, meaning you are missing the chance to take part in the pose — and you’ll only receive the benefits of the pose if you take part.
If your hamstrings are tight
Bend your knees so that you can touch the ground (or yoga blocks) and start to lift your sit bones to help arch your lower back and lengthen your spine.
If your head won’t come to the floor — and you want it to
To get the feeling of placing the crown of your head on the floor, place a block (or two, or three, etc) underneath your head until you can rest your head on the blocks. This can help you release your spine and open your hamstrings in a way that hanging your head down, but off the ground, doesn’t offer.
If your breathing is restricted
Focus on lengthening your upper back and arching your lower back. This can help open your chest, creating more space for you to breathe into.
If you want to do the main variations
- Prasarita Padottanasana B — Wide-Legged Forward Fold with your hands on your hips
- Prasarita Padottanasana C — Wide-Legged Forward Fold with Paschima Baddhanguliyasana (hands bound behind your back, arms stretched overhead)
- Prasarita Padottanasana D — Wide-Legged Forward Fold while holding your big toes
If you want to do restorative variations
Prasarita Padottanasana can be propped up in all sorts of ways to make it a restorative pose. You’ll need two yoga blankets, blocks, straps, a chair, a bolster, and access to a wall for these variations from Byron Yoga.
Yoga Poses Related to Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Surya Namaskar A / Sun Salutation A
- Utkatasana / Intense or Chair Pose
- Uttanasana / Standing Forward Fold Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Down Dog Pose
- Baddha Konasana / Bound Angle Pose
- Janu Sirsasana / Forehead to Knee Pose
- Supta Baddha Konasana / Supine Bound Angle Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Purvottanasana / Upward Plank Pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana with Side Stretch / Wide-Legged Forward Fold holding one foot with both hands)
- Parighasana / Gate Keeper Pose
- Upavistha Konasana / Seated Wide-Legged Forward Fold Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Padahastasana / Hand Under Foot Pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana B / Wide-Legged Forward Fold with your hands on your hips
- Prasarita Padottanasana C / Wide-Legged Forward Fold with Paschima Baddhanguliyasana (hands bound behind your back, arms stretched overhead)
- Prasarita Padottanasana D / Wide-Legged Forward Fold while holding your big toes
- Sirsasana 2 / Tripod Headstand
Related Posts & Videos
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Yoloha Cork Yoga Mat with plant-based foam
- Yoloha Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Folding Yoga Chair
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A Final Note About Wide-Legged Forward Fold
A lot of us are interested in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Handstand), Sirsasana (Headstand), and Hanumanasana (Full Splits). Opening your hamstrings and strengthening your quads are essential parts of your journey to these poses. One of the main benefits of Prasarita Padottanasana is its ability to help lengthen your hamstrings. One of its other main benefits? It’s ability to help you strength your quads.
So if you want to handstand, headstand, or to do the splits, then I recommend making Prasarita Padottanasana part of your regular yoga practice.
See you on (and off) the ice OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your understanding of Wide-Legged Forward Fold. I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply and I hope this post helps you see this common pose with new awareness.