Balance is first and foremost a state of mind. Only after the inner experience of the asana is harmonious will the physical expression follow.
Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is a balancing pose that tests both your physical and mental sense of balance. Balance is only attained in this pose when you can simultaneously calm the mind and release any attachment to achieving an aesthetic shape.
Finding Your Balance
Start off in samasthitih (standing in balanced stillness) and engage the pelvic floor, suck the lower belly in, and firm the quadriceps. Stack the torso over the hips and let the shoulders be free. Slowly transfer your weight over to the left foot, pressing down into the base of your left big toe and firming the left quadriceps even more.
Allow the right leg to begin to lift as a response to the subtle transfer of weight over to the left side. Then, pull the head of the right femur deeper into its socket, bend the knee, and flex the hip to lift the leg. Keeping the left hand on your natural waist, reach your right hand down toward the right foot.
Hold onto the right big toe by wrapping the index finger, middle finger, and thumb around it. Gaze at a small point either down on the floor slightly ahead of your feet or straight ahead, but be sure to lock your gaze on and don't waver. Avoid looking at your foot as you lift the leg.
Draw the right knee up towards your torso and activate the inner thigh to keep the hip in parallel position, avoiding external rotation. Maintain your balance. If you find this difficult do not proceed, simply stay here and work on the balance.
Only if you are balanced and calm, then slowly start to extend the right leg. Simultaneously pull the right hip back in space while reaching forward with the ball of the right foot. Engage the right arm, but avoid trying to lift your right leg with the strength of the arm. Suck the lower belly even deeper into the pelvis.
If you find it difficult to straighten the leg, do not proceed further; simply work on straightening the leg and maintaining your balance. Lack of flexibility in the hamstrings is one of the main obstacles to straightening the leg here.
Do not try to stretch your hamstring here; instead, spend longer time working on flexibility in poses that stretch the hamstrings prior to attempting Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.
Finally, if your leg is extended and you are able to maintain the balance, exhale to fold your sternum towards the right knee. As you reach forward with the sternum and torso, remember to pull the right hip back in space to counterbalance.
Do not try to lift the leg high; instead, focus on the inner experience of balance and stability. Stay for 5 breaths at your maximum.
Rotating the Hip Outward
To proceed onward, inhale and lift your torso and stabilize the hips. If you did not fold forward, simply remain where you are and initiate the movement from there.
Exhale as you externally rotate the right hip joint. Avoid hiking the hip to lift the leg. Focus on keeping both sitting bones as level as possible.
Spiral the hip joint by releasing the inner thigh and creating the space for the pose. Ground through the left leg as much as possible and keep the left knee straight while avoiding hyperextension. Whether your right leg is bent or straight, the movement mechanic is the same for this portion of the pose.
Once you are able to maintain your balance, look over the left shoulder to a single gazing point. After 5 breaths, inhale as your roll the right hip back to the front, keeping both sitting bones at the same height.
Releasing the Leg
If you were able to fold forward before, then exhale as you fold forward towards your right leg for 1 breath. If you were not folding forward before, then simply settle into the standing leg.
Finally, inhale and return to standing, then exhale and take both hands to your natural waist and release the leg.
Lift the right leg by pulling the right hip back, drawing the head of the right femur deeper into its socket and activating the core. Even if your right leg is only a few inches off the ground, keep it up for the full five breaths. If your right thigh is burning, remain equanimous and allow the thigh to burn.
Avoid kicking the right leg up or out and focus on the core strength to keep the leg lifted. After 5 breaths, return to samasthitih and repeat on the left side.
Balance your mind throughout the pose by focusing on the journey of the posture, not the destination of the aesthetic shape. Let the practice evolve over time and never get ahead of the place you are. Learn to be steady and calm in your inner awareness as your move deeper with each breath.