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Uttanasana: Standing Forward Bend


A soothing posture for body and mind, Uttanasana (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna), or Standing Forward Bend, is straightforward, but far from simple. Requiring flexibility in hamstrings, hips, and calves, Uttanasana requires patience. While there is no “arrival” in Uttanasana, over time your body will begin to open more, allowing exploration of new depths of the posture. Watching ebbs and flows in your body and life reflected in this simple posture can bring a lifetime of intrigue in an asana practice.

Philosophy + Origin

While the Sanskrit name suggests intensity, it’s our job, as yoga students, to temper effort with acceptance. The Sanskrit word “santosha,” which is also one of the niyamas, means “contentment.” In Uttanasana, knowing when to accept intensity and when to be content with where you are is key to steady progress without injury or frustration. It’s easy to try to push for more — with Uttanasana, this means wanting to be more flexible or pushing further into the pose. Rather than struggling, use the posture to practice santosha. Can you accept both the intensity and your capacity right now?

ADJUSTMENTS/MODIFICATIONS:

  • Separate your feet to give your hamstrings room — keep your feet parallel.
  • Practice with knees bent to decrease intensity, especially if you have a back injury or pain.
  • Placing your hands on blocks can help with tight hamstrings.
  • To deepen the posture, hold onto the backs of your ankles or grasp opposite forearms behind your calves.
  • To deepen the stretch at the backs of your legs, elevate the balls of your feet with a rolled mat or blanket

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS:

  • Lower back pain or injury
  • Hamstring injury
  • High blood pressure
  • Third trimester pregnancy

TIPS:

Engaging the adductors in the upper inner thighs can be challenging in the beginning. While not strictly necessary in Uttanasana, the pose is an opportunity to engage those muscles. Assume Uttanasana with a block between your thighs. Focus on squeezing the block while simultaneously moving it back with a slight rotation of your inner thighs.

STEP-BY-STEP:

  1. Start by beginning in Mountain pose. Place your hands on your hips. As you exhale, hinge from the hip joints and bend forward. Think about creating as much length as possible from your pubic bone to the very top of your sternum.
  2. While lengthening the front of your torso, bring yourself deeper into the pose, perhaps letting your fingertips or palms of your hands press into the floor just in front of or right beside your feet. Alternately, you can hold opposite elbows. Root down through all four corners of your feet, focusing specifically on the weight in your heels. Draw your upper inner thighs towards each other and back. Allow your head to hang, releasing the upper back and muscles between your shoulder blades.
  3. Allow the breath to subtly move through your body as you stay in the posture, with each inhale lifting and lengthening the torso and each exhale releasing more deeply into the fold. Stay in Uttanasana for up to 60 seconds.
  4. To exit the pose, return your hands to your hips and lift up, keeping the length in the front and back of your torso.

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PREPARATORY POSES:

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Janu Sirsasana
  • Paschimottanasana
  • Supta Padangusthasana

FOLLOW-UP POSES:

  • Halasana
  • Sirsasana
  • Upavistha Konasana
  • Utthita Trikonasana
  • Virabhadrasana II

SANSKRIT:

  • Ut = intense
  • Tan = to stretch
  • Asana = pose

PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Stretches hips, hamstrings, calves
  • Strengthens thighs and knees
  • Massages internal organs
  • Improves digestion
  • Removes mucus from the lungs
  • Reduces headaches
  • Improves sleep

ENERGETIC BENEFITS:

  • Calms and soothes the mind
  • Reduces fatigue and anxiety
  • Relieves stress
  • Combats depressio

MANTRA:

“Om Mani Padme Hum”

This foundational Tibetan Buddhist mantra is used to alleviate stress and anxiety. Chant or recite the words aloud or internally to cultivate positive, compassionate energy in your heart and mind.

MUDRA: Shuni Mudra

Use this mudra to purify and clear your emotions and thoughts. Bring the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb. Straighten and extend the other three fingers.

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