Standing Forward Fold or Uttanasana calms the mind while stretching and rejuvenating the whole body. This pose is an essential element of Sun Salutations and helps to prepare the body for deeper forward bends. When practiced correctly, this pose is an intense stretch, particularly for the hamstrings and back.
What You Should Know Before You Do The Asana
This asana must be performed on an empty stomach. You must have your meals at least four to six hours before you practice yoga. You must also make sure that your bowels are empty. Uttanasana requires patience and practice to be performed at its fullest expression. If you do not have the flexibility to do the pose in proper alignment, practice with a block or with your knees bent until you can straighten your legs without over-rounding your back. Those with back injuries should practice this pose with bent knees, or only perform Half Standing Forward Fold.
How To Do The Uttanasana : Step-by-Step Instructions
- Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with your hands on your hips.
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips, lengthening the front of your torso.
- Bend your elbows and hold on to each elbow with the opposite hand. Let the crown of your head hang down. Press your heels into the floor as you lift your sit bones toward the ceiling. Turn the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Do not lock your knees.
- If you can keep the front of your torso long and your knees straight, place your palms or fingertips on the floor beside your feet. Bring your fingertips in line with your toes and press your palms on the mat. Those with more flexibility can place their palms on the backs of their ankles.
- Engage your quadriceps (the front thigh muscles) and draw them up toward the ceiling. The more you engage your quadriceps, the more your hamstrings (the rear thigh muscles) will release.
- Bring your weight to the balls of your feet. Keep your hips aligned over your ankles.
- Slightly lift and lengthen your torso with each inhalation. Release deeper into the pose with each exhalation. Let your head hang.
- Hold the pose for up to one minute. To release, place your hands on your hips. Draw down through your tailbone and keep your back flat as you inhale and return to Tadasana.
- Repeat 5-10 times. Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Uttanasana into Half Standing Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana).
Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Emphasize lengthening the front of your torso, instead of bringing your head and hands all the way down. Bend your knees as much as you need to, or place your hands on a block or chair to keep this length as you fold.
- Aim to bring your belly to your thighs, rather than your head to your knees or your hands to the ground!
- Be sure to fold from the hips, not the waist. To learn this movement, place your hands directly on your front hip bones. Press your hands into your front hip bones and hinge from that spot, keeping your torso long.
- Come up from the pose with a flat back. This helps to strengthen the back muscles.
- Aim for aligning your ankles, knees, and hips. It’s common to lean back, placing too much weight on the heels. Practice the pose with your back against a wall to learn the correct weight distribution.
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, bend your knees slightly. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking deeper into the back of your pelvis and bring the tailbone closer to the pubis. Then against this resistance, push the top thighs back and the heels down and straighten the knees again. Be careful not to straighten the knees by locking them back (you can press your hands against the back of each knee to provide some resistance); instead let them straighten as the two ends of each leg move farther apart.
Modifications & Variations
Try these changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If your hamstrings or low back are tight, bend your knees. Let your belly come to your thighs. Keep the front of your torso long and make sure you are folding at the hips, not at the waist.
- If you’re having trouble balancing, stand with your feet hip-distance apart or wider.
- Women who are pregnant should stand with their feet as wide as necessary to feel stable. Only fold forward as deeply as it is comfortable for your stage in pregnancy, and be careful not to compress the belly.
- To deepen the stretch at the back of the legs, elevate the balls of your feet by placing them on your folded mat, towel, or firm blanket.
- To deepen the stretch even further, clasp your elbows behind your knees. Then, reach down and take hold of the outer ankles of each foot with the opposite hand: Right hand to left ankle and left hand to right ankle.
Benefits Of The Uttanasana
- Uttanasana combines the benefits of forward folds and inversions.
- Dropping your head below your heart calms your brain.
- This helps to relieve stress, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, mild depression, and insomnia.
- Uttanasana also deeply stretches and lengthens your hamstrings and calves.
- It opens the hips and can relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.
Standing poses, inversions, or seated forward bends
It can be easy to push your body too much in Uttanasana, interpreting more “intense” sensations as a sign of progress. But, it’s important to learn that the more you relax in the pose, the more naturally your body will open up. Forcing forward folds will only cause your muscles to shorten and resist. Breathe deeply and settle into the moment. As you let resistance fade away, you might discover that the true intensity of this pose lies within.