Uttanasana Standing Forward Bend
“Ut” means intense in Sanskrit. “Tan” means to stretch and to extend. Asana means yoga pose or posture.
Uttanasana is the basic standing forward bend. It is a pose that brings about intense extension to your legs and spine. Your hamstrings will wake up and your mind will be soothed. Uttanasana is sometimes done between standing poses because of its recuperative benefits. It is a critical piece of Surya Namaskar, sun salutation sequences done in vinyasa and other styles of yoga. Vinyasa styles of yoga are sequences of poses performed one after another and linked in a dynamic flow by breath.
Practice of Uttanasana
- Start in mountain pose (Tadasana) standing with the feet, ankles and toes as close together as possible. Place your hands at your hips with your fingers facing forward and the thumbs pointing back.
- Inhale, then as you exhale bend forward. The goal is to place your fingers and then your palms on the floor.
- As a basic forward bend, it is like all forward bends in that the work in the pose actually occurs in the muscles of the legs rather than in the spine. It is through lengthening the muscles in the back of the legs that one eventually can bend at the waist and fold the upper body flat against the legs in forward bending positions.
- When performing Uttanasana lengthen the front of your body as you fold. Work towards placing the hands next to the feet and behind the heels. Do not bend your knees. When you have worked into the pose as deeply as you initially can with straight legs then stay there for some time attempting to breath into the stretching muscles in the legs and gradually easing a bit deeper into the pose.
- It is important to extend continuously from the base of the spine. Move the hips forward without pushing your buttocks back. Keep legs perpendicular with the floor. Soften as you hang from the hips. Let your own weight and gravity help you as you allow your spine to extend.
- Keep breathing continuously and stay as long as it is easy to breathe normally in a continuous way without holding your breath.
- Strive to extend the back leg muscles and thus bring the torso closer to the legs. The chin is moving towards the shin rather then the head to the knees.
- Your knees should be lifted with active quadriceps muscles. Weight is equally divided between the left and the right leg and centered on each foot.
- After some time, lift out of the pose on an inhalation. Raise your head from the knees, but, if possible, leave your palms or hands on the floor. If you are flexible, you can leave the palms there and lift up. Otherwise, your fingertips will be okay.
- Complete two breaths and deeply inhale. Lift your hands from the floor and return to Tadasana (mountain pose). If this you experience any slight dizziness when finishing the pose it can often be alleviated by pressing the chin into the upper chest as you slowly return to an upright position.
Cautions for Beginners:
- Here is a variation. When you are in the pose, you can try bending elbows and holding each elbow. Hang like a rag doll and let the gravity help extend your spine. Play with bending your knees slightly during the pose, which will lessen the intensity for the hamstrings.
- Another variation is to do the pose against the wall. Stand a foot to a foot and half away from the wall, facing away from it. Bend forward and send your hips back to the wall. As you do the pose, your legs will be at an angle from the floor to the wall. Your sit bones should touch the wall, not your hips. Extend the spine and reach for the floor. Now try standing on your tiptoes. It should raise your sit bones on the wall. Leave your sit bones at the spot on the wall and come down onto your flat feet. As you do this, you will notice that your pelvis rotates and thus allows your spine to extend. The action of the raising of the sit bones and the pelvis is good to help your body understand when you do the pose in this variation or the other way.
Intensifying the Pose:
- Do the pose as described at the top under “Technique.” Place a rolled mat under the balls of both feet bring your toes up with heels down. This makes the hamstrings and calves feel a more of a stretch.
- Do the pose and rest your head on a stool, chair, or block when your are tired and need restoration. Experiment in finding the right height for you. Add blankets to a surface to make it perfect. I like to use the yoga barrel standing on one end. I can grab the slats on the side of the barrel and pull yet the barrel provides a surface to rest the top of my head. Doing Uttanasana on a stool cools the head and relaxes the eyes. The fresh oxygenated blood going to the brain rejuvenates and refreshes the mind. Do the pose this way in the supported version when you are tired or exhausted. When you travel, try it and you will feel better.
- Uttanasana is said to soothe the mind and relieve stress.
- The pose may help alleviate mild depression.
- You will notice a stretch the hamstrings, calves, and hips and you want to be careful to not overstretch the hamstrings.
- Notice sensation and don’t lock your knees in the pose.
- The thighs and knees strengthen with lifting in the quadriceps. The supported version is useful during menopause.
- Uttanasana, especially supported, reduces fatigue and anxiety.
- For some headaches it may bring relief and it is a good pose to do to counteract fatigue. If you get excited and need calming, it will help.
- It may help digestion and menstrual pain in the abdomen.
- Your spine will appreciate the space between vertebrae created by the stretch. Those with asthma, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and sinusitis may be assisted by this posture.