If you can't hold on to your toe with your knee straight in utthita hasta padangusthasana (one hand big toe pose) then bend your knee and hold on to it instead.
Another option is to wrap a towel around your foot and use both hands to hold on to the towel.
This pose couuld be thought of as a standing hamstring stretch for the lifted leg. So that you can stretch the hamstring focus on relaxing it.
You can also work on using the strength of your arm (and or the hip flexors).
If the problem is lack of grip then grab on to the side of the foot instead. It's no longer "big toe pose" but then again, neither is it if you are using a towel!
Names aside, if your hamstrings lack flexibility, try not to compensate by rounding your spine.
Use a towel or bend your knee so that you can keep your spine straight while doing this one legged series of balance poses.
You can then use your arms to pull on your leg without compromising your lower back.
To work on your standing leg stability, practice first with the foot turned out slightly and the standing knee slightly bent. Try squeezing the outer thigh and hip and the inner thigh. Also try squeezing the hamstring.
Practice this first with your lifted knee bent, and then with it straight (or only slightly bent). Hold for only a breath or two then switch legs.
Next, as your leg stability improves, work towards doing it with a straight knee and your foot facing forwards.
One way to work towards the flexibility required in this pose is to rest your foot on a table, book shelf, low wall or even a tree limb.
Keep your standing leg and spine stable and focus on relaxing your hamstring so that you can then position your leg on something higher.
If your problem is balance, work on keeping your balance by using your standing foot to feel where your center of gravity is.
Work at keeping your center of gravity centered between the outside and inside edges of your standing foot. Also position your center of gravity forwards enough that your toes naturally press down. You can then use your toes to help keep your center stable. If your sensitivity is good, you can practice balancing without the use of your toes. In this case try shifting your weight onto your heel and keep it there. Relax your toes.
To practice stabilizing your body, start by activating the feet and ankle of your standing leg. Make both strong and rigid. Then activate the muscles of your lower leg. Hug the bones with the muscles housed in the lower leg.
Do the same with your knee joint.
Stabilize the hip of your standing leg by sucking the thigh bone of that leg into its hip socket. From there stabilize your mid section, spine, ribcage and shoulder of the arm supporting your leg.
If using the towel option and both arms then stabilze both shoulders. To stabilize your shoulders pull your shoulders towards their respective elbows. (Thanks Tim.)
With respect to the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana lifted leg, you can focus on relaxing the back of the thigh so that you can lift the leg higher.
Or you can try activating the back of the thigh by pulling your leg down while at the same time using your hand to pull up.
Another option is to focus on reaching the leg out of the hip. Make your leg feel long. And at the same time pull up with the arm or pull up and back.
Experiment with these variations whether the leg is to the front or the side.
In the Ashtanga Yoga Standing Sequence, the first two variations of this pose are with the hand grabbing the big toe first with your leg to the front and then open your lifted leg to the side.
When moving the leg to the side, try externally rotating the leg so that the knee points slightly rearwards.
Then move your leg to the front again, bend forward once and kiss your knee and then lift your torso, release your hand and hold your leg out to the front.
Hold each position for 5 breaths.
Do the right leg first (stand on your left foot) and then the left leg.
Ashtanga Yoga Poses: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 1, 2 and 3
Especially when holding your leg out to the front without using your hand, you may find this a lot easier to do if you bend your standing leg.
This gives you more room to stabilize your pelvis with the muscles of your standing leg.
From there it is then easier to engage your abs to unify your ribage and pelvis. You then have a more stable base for reaching your leg to the front.
Also, because this can be hard to learn on the fly, especially after having done the hand grabbing variations, you might try resting after the first two variations, then go into the third variation with fresh legs.
You may find that you learn it faster and can then transition into it without resting.
Another option for this third utthita hasta padangusthasana position is to practice first with your lifted knee bent. Because this is easier, work up to holding for ten slow breaths. Then work at slowly (over the course of several practices) making your knee straighter.
The alternative is to practice suffering the pain of trying the full pose straight away.
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
Is it a bad idea to heel strike while barefoot running? What are the possible benefits of heel striking? When should you not heel strike?
These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.