Tan—to stretch out
But with the publication of William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga, it became widely known that the queen and king both have potential dangers built into them. Because of the pressure in the cervical spine, being misaligned or holding either of these poses for too long can lead to neck injuries or even the formation of blood clots, which eventually travel to the brain and cause stroke.
No one is saying don’t do inversions; just do them safely.
For those who would struggle in more athletic inversions, the benefits are still available in poses like this one.
Getting into the pose
Stand tall: Take a wide stance, the widest you comfortably can. (Iyengar says 4.5 to 5 feet!) Angle your heels slightly outward so you are just a little pigeon toed. Keep pressing your feet into the floor and your legs strong. With your hands on your hips or in the hip crease at the top of your thighs, extend your spine upward.
Fold half way: Fold forward from your hip creases. Keep your spine lengthening and your neck in line with the rest of your spine as you bring your hands to your legs, blocks, or the floor. It’s a wide angle Table-type posture, like in this beautifully simple picture I found at eveyoga.com.
At this point, a teacher might say some crazy thing like, “spread your booty” or “blossom your anus.” What they are getting at is, for beginners, you want to internally rotate your femur in the hip socket which will feel like you’re expanding your backside. I say “for beginners” because once you become very flexible it’s easy to overdo this motion, rotating to a point that can put too much torque on your knees because your feet are firmly planted.
Release into forward fold: If your lower back is healthy, lower down and allow the spine to round slightly. A common misalignment at this point is for the hips to move forward or back; keep them in line with your heals.
Hold for 30 seconds. Breathe up your legs and down your spine.
Complete pose: Bring your palms in line with your feet. Spread your fingers wide and draw your elbows back and toward each other to bring your upper arms parallel to the floor. You can hold a block between your forearms to get a feel of the inward motion required. Set the top of your head lightly on the floor or a block. Do not let the crown of your head bear any weight or pressure.
Prasarita Padottanasana 2: From the Iyengar school, Prasarita Padotttanasana 2 adds prstanjali (prish-tan-jali) mudra, a.k.a. namaste or prayer hands behind the back. While standing upright in wide angle, bring your hands behind your back, palms together, pinkies into your back moving up toward the space between your shoulder blades. Then fold forward.
Benefits of prasarita padottanasana
This last one might sound like fluffy nonsense, but I remember clearly as I got into Yoga in my 30s thinking how long it had been since I was upside down. Being upside down was for children. Being in an inversion changes your perspective on both what you see and how you see yourself. No small potatoes.
Finally, if and when you do bring your head to the floor, mystically speaking, you are stimulating your sahasrara chakra, the thousand-petaled lotus at the crown of your head. This is the enlightenment chakra, symbolizing detachment from illusion and living in the knowledge that All is One.
The crown of the head is the seat of Shiva, while the tailbone is the sight of the goddess Shakti in her form as Kundalini energy. Postures that extend the spine and bring awareness to the connection between the tailbone and crown help draw our spiritual awakening along the spine, symbolically moving through all the stages of spiritual development, to bring Shiva and Shakti, divine masculine and feminine, yin and yang, together again to experience Oneness.