Updated: Oct 11, 2022
While standing, reach for your toes, legs straight - how far can you reach?
Many of us would think 'of course I can touch my toes' and then be surprised at how far away they seem when trying. Chances are tight hamstrings are preventing you from reaching that holy grail. Please note that lower back pain* needs to be honoured with this exercise.
The great thing about the upcoming stretch is it relieves tired or achey legs from being on your feet all day, it is relaxing enough to give a sense of rejuvenation when practiced for 15-20 minutes and it can be easily modified to fit any level of tightness.
Find a section of wall you'll be able to use. If reaching for your toes was really difficult, have blankets or even a yoga block nearby.
Sit with the side of your hip touching the wall
Lean back onto your forearms and bring your legs up the wall while lying your back down on the floor
Bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible
Legs are straight, heels extend up towards the ceiling, front of thighs move down towards the floor
Take a moment to roll your shoulder blades flat onto the floor
Place your hands flat against the front of the middle of your thighs and apply gentle pressure towards the wall
Far away from the wall? - bend your legs, placing feet flat on the wall. Press into your feet and shoulders to lift the hips enough to ‘walk’ your shoulders closer to the wall. Slowly bring hips back down to the floor, repeat until you are as close to the wall as possible...if there’s still distance you can work on extending your heels up and over time you will find getting closer to the wall easier, or if you want to go deeper:
2-3” away: place a firm folded blanket or two (6-8” x 18” approx) along the wall, under your hips. Walk buttocks closer to the wall.
further away: increase the height, use sturdy books, yoga block or something similar placed under the tailbone, there should be no discomfort in the kidney area. Press feet into the wall to lift the hips enough to place the object under the tailbone. Work to reduce the height over a period of time.
*Pain in the lower back - place a chair where the wall would be (a couch works great), resting the calves on the chair seat. Extend one leg at a time towards the ceiling, pressing the back of the thigh against the front of the chair seat.
Tailbone is lifting off the floor - this indicates tight hamstrings and either the hips need to be supported by the suggested height props mentioned above or move the buttocks a little more away from the wall.
Hyperextension of the knees - if the legs are against the wall the knees will not hyperextend. If the buttocks are away from the wall, make sure to extend the calves towards the heels and move the front of the top thighs (closest to the hips) towards the wall, not the knee area.
How it helps:
Legs, tired - gravity is our friend here. Blood tends to pool in the lower legs during standing and sitting for extended periods of time. Placing the legs above the heart allows the oxygen-depleted blood to return to the heart helping to ease the pressure and tenderness of tired feet and legs.
Legs, hamstrings - the body likes to take the path of least resistance. If you found it considerably easier to reach for your toes versus coming into this pose, it is likely your hips were moving behind your heel line or the knees were bent. Having a wall gives the feed back of what areas are tight and what needs to move, creating support while not allowing us to ‘cheat’. Lengthening the hamstrings by opening the back of the knees and placing the pelvis in correct alignment helps to lengthen the hamstring muscles.
Creating a healthier body can be overwhelming...
Taking one moment at a time to relieve an ache or pain can make a goal more achievable, and worth your time.
Wishing you great health, Tanya
Tanya is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher based out of Abbotsford, BC Canada. She has been teaching since 2015, strictly online since March 2020. Tanya volunteers her time as a board member for the BKS Iyengar Yoga Association Vancouver. Her greatest joy is being able to help discover movement.