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.
After a bit of a hiatus its back to stretching for beginners.
The latest installment is a mini sequence that works towards the half split inner thigh stretch with some prone twisting and outer thigh stretching followed by some recovery work with standing poses to help reactivate the inner thighs.
This set of poses is designed to show you how to activate the spinal erectors to bend the spine backwards so that you stretch the front of the torso. It also includes stretches like upright pigeon pose and upward facing dog for stretching the front of the hip (the hip flexors).
The latest stretch in the "Stretches for Beginners" series is a set of hip extensor stretches including happy baby and low lunge. Previous stretches in this series include bound angle (baddha konasana) and a pigeon pose hip stretch for the sides of the hip.
For well being is it better to be able to contract a muscle or relax it? I'd suggest that you learn to do both and just as importantly... Learn to feel when a muscle is activated and when it is relaxed.
The key to both is...
The yoga basics bundle is a collection of five yoga basics ebooks: balance basics, shoulder basics, backbend basics, hamstring basics and the hip control guide all for $52.00. (The suggested regular price is $124.95)
Consciousness is like the Captain of a ship. At times the ship it commands can be very big with lots of sailors to tell what to do, at other times the captain is sailing solo, taking care of the sails and the tiller.
This is a mini-routine that I've been using in my classes recently to teach awareness and control of the foundation in poses like
table top, high lunge, low lunge, extended cat pose, and yoga push ups (leading to chaturanga dandasana.)
This can lead to smoother and more mindful movement.
Tensegrity basics: tension doesn't just integrate the body, it can be used for proprioception and for responsiveness and quicker reactions.
What is proper yoga alignment for handstand? Why not learn to feel and control your shoulders and ribcage so that you can learn to feel when your body is best aligned.
In this video some tips for body weight squat and the one legged pistol squat with a focus on "feeling your body."
Why do a pistol squat? To improve hip strength and left/right hip balance. This may help to alleviate low back pain.
This dance of shiva video playlist includes cyclic movement combinations: F-F, B-B, F-B, B-F, CF-CF, CB-CB, CF-CB, CB-CF.
Learn how to stabilize the shoulder and hip in side plank.
This video goes over some basic body awareness exercises you can do while working towards side plank.
This Beginners Yoga Routine is from the ebook Yoga Basics 2, Muscle Control and Stability Exercises for More Flexible Hamstrings. It's designed to introduce a sequence of basic yoga poses.
Having trouble getting your heels down in downward facing dog? Here's an easy way to sink them lower included with a discussion on how to use downward dog as a preparation for wheel pose.
Simple instructions for getting into yoga tree pose and how to make both sides even while doing this yoga balancing pose.
In triangle pose work on hip stability and foot and leg control to help sink the ribcage towards the leg.
The following is a series of gentle yoga for back pain relief. The head is supported in nearly all postures allowing the muscles of the back and hip to relax in a variety of positions.
Conscious proprioception is the ability to focus awareness on discrete elements of the body. It can lead to easier learning of physical activities or simply better movement and body control.
Lots of people hate purvottanasana. Try pushing the hands forwards against the floor to make revese plank/straight bridge easier.
An overview of the sequence of ashtanga yoga poses with links to more detailed descriptions.