What is Uttanasana?
Uttanasana might be known to you as a ‘Forward Bend’ or a ‘Standing Forward Fold’, but the Sanskrit name literally translates as ‘Intense Stretch Pose’. This is translated from the three Sanskrit words; “Ut’ which means ‘Intense’, “Tan” which means “to stretch” and “Asana” meaning “pose”. This pose is great for a deep stretch to the hamstrings or back, but should also been deeply relaxing, despite the name ‘intense’! The more you relax into the pose, the better the benefit will be.
Uttanasana is found in most yoga sequences, but is a key component of sun salutes and vinyasa flow. It’s usually found as part of the transition sequence between standing poses and chaturanga dandasana, or the four-limbed staff pose. While it can be used as a transition pose, taking the time to practice this pose stand alone, or as part of a slower flow, can help to give more time to work on the technical aspects of the pose.
Uttanasana can calm the brain, while also stretching the entire body and leave you feel rejuvenated. This post can help prepare you for even deeper forward folds.
What are the benefits of Uttanasana?
Practising Uttanasana pose can help you strengthen your legs, lengthen and understand the connective tissues in your body. The symmetry of the forward fold helps to highlight any imbalance present between the left and right sides of your body. As Uttanasana is also an inversion pose, you can feel the benefits of inversion much more accessible than from a handstand. This forward fold helps to gently stretch your neck using the weight of your head hanging.
Dropping your head below your heart in poses such as Uttanasana will help calm your brain. This helps to reduce stress, bad headaches, anxiety, fatigue and insomnia, as well as relieving tension in the neck and the shoulders.
Other benefits of Uttanasana include improvements in flexibility, especially if you have a job where you sit down all day. The forward fold helps to lengthen the legs and back. This pose also helps massage internal organs, and stimulates the liver and kidneys and improving digestion.
How to do Uttanasna
Start by standing in Tadasana, or mountain pose with your hands on your hips. As you exhale, bend forwards – making sure you’re folding from the hip joints and not your waist. As you get lower, bring your torso out, opening up space between your hips and your breastbone. Focus on lengthening out of your torso as your bend over.
Bend your arms at your elbows and hold onto them with your hands. Let your head hang down and push your heels into the floor. Lift your sitting bones upwards and turn your thighs inward slightly, without letting your knees lock.
If you can, straighten your knees and bring your hands to the floor, either in front of your feet or holding the backs of your ankles without losing the length in your torso. Engage the front of your thigh muscles IF you can’t do this, stay folded forward and cross your arms and hold your elbows. Engaging your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thighs will also help your hamstrings to release. Bring your weight into the balls of your feet, and keep your hips directly over your ankles.
As you inhale, lift your torso and lengthen it slight, relaxing into the bend with each exhalation. Let your head hang, and stay in this pose for up to one minute.
To come out of the pose, place your hands onto your hips, pressing your tailbone down and bending upwards, keeping the length of the torso.
Uttanasana pose requites a lot of patience to be able to perform it fully. This isn’t a pose to rush, as it can take up to years to reach the deepest variation. It can be easy to injure yourself if you try and push yourself too soon. Work with blocks and bent knees to start off if you do not have the flexibility to begin with until you can straighten your legs without your back rounding. If you have back injuries, always have bent knees, or hold it halfway so you don’t injure yourself further.
If you suffer from tight hamstrings or lower back, keep your knees bent and let your belly touch your thighs. If your back is feeling rounded, take the bend in your knees further. If you’re feeling unstable, take your feet a little wider to help with balance – this is especially important if you are pregnant, as well as only folding forward as deeply as feels comfortable without compressing the belly.
To make the stretch in your hamstrings deeper, lift the balls of your feet by folding your mat.
How to improve
Keeping your torso long is crucial in Uttanasana, to avoid injury to your back and knee joints. Always remember to concentrate on lengthen the torso as you fold, instead of pulling your head and hands down. Think about bringing your stomach towards your thighs, instead of your head to the ground. If you’re having trouble bending from your hips, place your hands over your hips and fold forward slowly from where your hands meet your body.
Once you have Uttanasana pose down, you might want to try some of the variations below:
Side Flexion Forward Ford
Once you are in and relaxed in Uttanasana pose, walk your hands to the left side, pointing your fingers to the left outside your left foot. Stay here for five breaths to stretch out the right side of your body, and repeat on the right. Remember to keep your torso long as you come back to centre and out of the pose.
Cross Legged Forward Fold
Start in mountain pose, and shift your weight into your left foot, before lifting your right in front of your left foot and placing it to the left. Try to spread your weight in-between your two feet equally, and bend your knees and begin to fold forwards. Stay for a few breaths before returning to mountain pose and repeating on the opposite side.
By Amy Cavill
Practice and enjoy the benefits of Uttanasana now!
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