Uttanasana benefits of this standing forward fold in yoga
Uttanasana is one of the key transitional poses in yoga and a gateway between standing asanas and poses closer to the mat such as Low Lunge, Plank and Cobra pose. A standing forward fold or standing forward bend as you may also hear it called, Uttanasana will show up time and time again in your yoga practice. Uttanasana allows us to draw in energy from the sky above and release it down to the earth as we exhale folding forward.
The benefits of standing forward bend
When we come into a standing forward fold in yoga we release through the whole back of our bodies. This stretches the myofascial backline (web of connective tissue and muscles) that starts at the soles of your feet, travels up through your Achilles tendon, your calves, hamstrings, lower back and works up your back and up over your head to meet your eyebrows. That’s a lot of releasing going on right!
Not only does this inward-looking yoga pose release your back body, but it can also work as an emotional release. Forward folds help to access our parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us into a calmer more introspective rest and digest state of being.
However, working with such typically tight parts of the body such as the hamstrings and lumbar spine (lower back) is not without its issues. It’s easy to over tug tight hamstrings and lower back, potentially opening them up to aggravation. Therefore, it is important to respect your daily limitations and move mindfully in and out of Uttanasana so as avoid injuries.
How to do Uttanasana
- From Mountain pose it’s normally best to bring your feet to about inner hip-distance apart. This will give you more stability as you release down than having your feet together.
- If you have very tight hamstrings or lower back take as much bend in your knees as you need to be able to hinge forward at the hips, as opposed to rounding forward from the mid-back. Keep in mind that the straighter your legs are, the more you’ll work into the hamstrings.
- If you’re more flexible, try not to lock your knees out. Even in the case of hyper-flexible hamstrings, it’s good to have a micro-bend in your knees to help keep your legs fully engaged. This will also prevent very mobile people from sitting all their weight back on their heels in Uttanasana.
- To come down into the standing forward fold, broaden across your chest and extend out through the spine. Then hinge at the hips by tilting your frontal hip points forward to forward bend down. Your hands will either swim laterally down to meet your sides from above, come down through your heart centre, or you may even have your hands on your hips.
- Draw your lower abdomen in and up as you fold forward. Repeat this abdominal action once you’re in Uttanasana to give you a sense of more space to drop into.
- Once you’re in your forward fold you may wish to straighten your legs up a little bit more. Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed between your heels and your toes, as the tendency is to put more weight on your heels. If you feel uncertain about shifting your weight forward then keep a block in front of you for support.
- Allow the weight of the crown of your head to release to the ground to further release the whole back of your body. You can gently shake your head yes and no here to make sure you’re not holding unnecessary tension in your neck.
- Your arms can be placed with palms or fingers on the floor, on blocks, or it can also feel good to cross your arms beneath you. Whichever arm position you choose, keep a broadness to the collarbone and across the upper back.
- Lastly, with every exhalation try and release a little bit more into the pose and let a wave of tranquillity wash over you.
If you find practising Uttanasana too trying on your hamstrings then you can always practice coming into the pose by walking your hands down a wall or by extending down the back of a chair.
If your shoulders tend to hunch forward then you may want to experiment with gently folding your arms behind your back so that you can fold forward into the pose with a beautifully extended spine and open chest.
Working into tight hamstrings whilst maintaining a neutral spine can be practised in a supine position. Lying on your back raise one leg up to the sky with a belt wrapped around the foot. Take about 20 mindful breaths on each leg to slowly release into the back of your legs.