While we like to call ourselves surfers, the reality is that we spend the majority of our time paddling, not riding waves. And paddling board is hard work. Particularly with shortboards—but even on longboards as well—we spend hours flexing our lower backs and upper legs in order to support a more efficient streamline through the water so that we can paddle faster and catch more waves. All of this flexing can lead to strained, tight muscles in our upper legs and lower backs—basically our entire core. And of course, our core is the foundation of movement and posture in the body, so anything that stresses the core affects everything we do. This is why it is so important for surfers to maintain healthy lower backs and upper legs. After years of holding the paddle position, we probably have pretty well-developed muscles in our core—but that strength needs to be balanced by flexibility. This month’s yoga pose, prasarita padottanasana, helps maintain that balance so that we can move efficiently and painlessly both in the water and out.
Prasarita Padottanasana is also known as a wide-legged forward bend—one of the most aptly named poses in all of the yoga! While it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what this pose looks like, it is still important to move into and out of the pose properly.
To practice prasarita padottanasana, start in tadasana (mountain pose). Fold forward and lower your hands down to help support your balance with your fingertips on the floor. Then, heel-toe your feet apart from one another until you have an extra-wide stance with your feet about three to four feet apart, creating a solid, wide-legged foundation. Let the outer edges of your feet be parallel to each other, which may even look like your toes are angled in slightly. Strengthen your foundation by lifting the outer edges and inner arches of your feet equally, and drawing your thigh muscles up.
Continue to engage the fronts of your thighs and your abdominals, which will facilitate a deeper fold. Breathe deeply here a few times, then walk your fingertips back until they are between your feet, maintaining a long spine while doing so. Breathe here a few times, and again fold further toward the ground as you exhale, bending your elbows. If your head can reach the ground, allow it to rest there. If not, consider placing a block on the ground in front of you for your head to rest on.
Let your palms rest on the floor in front of you, with your fingers pointing forward. If your body allows it, walk your hands back toward your feet until you come into a full forward bend.
Remain in the pose for around a minute. Enjoy the sensation of the stretch along the backs of your legs, inner thighs, and muscles on either side of your spine. Don’t force the pose—allow time and gravity to help you deepen into it.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, walk your hands back out until they are below your shoulders. Then support your weight by engaging your core muscles, and bring your hands to your hips as you lift your torso upright. Heel-toe your feet back together until they are shoulder-width apart. You are now in tadasana again, and free to continue your stretching routine from there, or carry on with your day!
Kilty Inafuku teaches yoga classes on the North Shore (at the North Shore Yoga Co-Op and Paumalu Yoga), in Honolulu (at Power Yoga Hawaii Piikoi), and in Kailua (at Yoga by the Sea). She also hosts and guest teaches at various yoga events on the island, and leads retreats both in Hawaii and overseas. For more information, visit www.kiltyyoga.com.