Like downward dog, Uttanasana - or Standing Forward Bend - is one of the most common poses in yoga. It is part of the Surya Namaskar series, and often used as part of a Vinyasa transition between yoga poses.
Benefits. Uttanasana offers many great benefits: It stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles, it opens the hips and groins and stimulates the digestive system while improving the functioning of the inner organs, including the liver and kidneys.
Because Uttanasana gently stretches the large leg muscles, where many people hold a great deal of tension, Uttanasaana has a deeply relaxing effect. It calms the entire nervous system and relieves stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Contraindications. This pose is not recommended for people with low back problems without the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
Also, for people with tight hamstrings Uttanasana can be contraindicated, because if not done properly, the pose puts stress on the lower back. Tight hamstrings will prevent the pelvic bowel from moving freely forward, and as a result, the bending action is shifted into the lower back, putting pressure on the intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine. To avoid this, follow the remedial steps below, or start with non-weight bearing gentle hamstring stretches, such as Supta Padagustasana.
Uttanasana Step-By-Step Practice
1. Start standing in Tadasana with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Lift you toes and engage the muscles of your legs, drawing energy upwards from you feet. Then spread your toes put them back on the floor, keeping the leg muscles engaged. Root down through the four corners of the feet.
2. Lift the crown of your head away from your shoulders, lengthen your sidebody, and elongate your spine.
3. Raise your arms overhead, turning the palms to face each other. Keep the legs gently engaged towards the center. Pulling the shoulder blades down your back, extend from your low belly and lengthen out through your fingertips.
4. On an exhale, bend forward by pivoting from your groin area, being careful to keep the spine straight and long. Slowly fold your torso over your legs. Maintain the length through your spine, maintaining the forward bend from the pelvic bowl only, not from the lower back.
5. Lift your tailbone and allow the lifting to extend your torso further forward.
6. Again, lift your toes up from the floor to feel the leg muscles firm. Keep your leg muscles firmly engaged as you place the toes back down. Engage the inner thighs by gently bringing the legs towards each other.
7. Bend your knees slightly and come more deeply into the pose by allowing your upper torso to lengthen over your legs. Then, lift up from the knee cap to engage the quads and let that action slowly straighten your legs.
8. To release the posture, press the soles of your feet downward and drop your tailbone, gradually bringing up the squeeze as you return to the starting position.
For tight hamstrings, try the following modifications:
1. Bring the feet further apart, so the outer edge of the foot lines up with the outer edge of the mat.
2. Bend you knees as much as is needed to keep your spine straight as your torso drapes over your leg. If your spine rounds, bend the knees more.
3. Put your hands on a block in front of you instead of on the floor.
Variations: Padahastasana—Standing Hand to Foot Pose
This is a more challenging version of this forward bend. Standing in Uttanasana, bring your hands underneath your feet. The hands and feet both contain many nerve centers and this variation has a nourishing and grounding effect on the entire mind and body.
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