Standing forward bend (Uttanasana), valuable in balance improvement

In Standing Forward Bend your hamstrings and calves are stretched and lengthened by bending. If you run or participate in an activity that requires a lot of movement, you are likely to have tight hamstrings.
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Origins of standing forward bend

Uttanasana is a standing forward fold and the Surya Namaskar sequences includes it. This pose is beneficial for stress relief and nervous system relaxation.  The term is derived from the Sanskrit word uttana, meaning “intense stretch,” and asana, which translates to “seat” or “posture” in Sanskrit.

Standing forward bend is the Western name for uttanasana. Even though it is not found in classic literature of yoga, the uttanasana was found written in a Hindu text named Shri Tattva Nidhi. This text was discovered in the 19th century in Mysore, India.

With the exception of hand positioning, it is quite similar to the posture padahastasana, or “hands to feet pose.” Your hands tend to come to the back of the ankles in complete uttanasana, while they are under the feet in padahastasana, though this varies depending on which variation is being performed.

Benefits

woman practicing standing forward pose

It is said Uttanasana is a crucial position because, in addition to the physical advantages of stretching and strengthening, and that it is balancing for the body. This is due to the body’s combination of action and complacency once it has been folded into the position.

Uttanasana, like all forward bends, is thought to be relaxing for the mind. It is a surrendering position that can teach patience and acceptance. 

Furthermore, tension is reported to be relieved by increased blood flow to the brain and the inverted nature of the posture, with the heart above the head.

In Standing Forward Bend your hamstrings and calves are stretched and lengthened by bending. If you run or participate in an activity that requires a lot of movement, you are likely to have tight hamstrings. It is considered as a stress-relieving and soothing stance. It is traditionally said to aid in the relief of sleeplessness.

Step by step instructions

  1. Starting in Raised Hands Pose (Urdhva Hastasana), you need to push your arms down on both sides of your body to emerge into a forward fold from your hips.  This is referred to as a Swan Dive.
  2. Put your fingertips to the same level as your toes. If you can, place your palms flat against the mat. Place blocks underneath your hands if they do not reach the floor.
  3.  Bend your knees slightly to avoid locking them.
  4. Draw up your quadriceps muscles by engaging them. Exercising your quads more, will help in opening your hamstrings even more.
  5. Make sure your hips remain over your ankles. This can be done by shifting your weight a bit further into the balls of your feet.
  6. Allow your head to drop.
  7. Inhale and place your hands on your hips to rise. As you slowly rise up, press your tailbone down and flex your abdominal muscles.
women performing standing forward pose

Common mistakes

Feet positioining

In the standing forward fold, you stand with your feet parallel, hip-width apart and hands on hips. The most common mistake that you can make in this pose is to stand with your feet together. This prevents you from using their legs and core to support the weight of their upper body.

When the feet are together, the hips and lower back must do all of the work to support the weight of the upper body. Because this pose is so common, it is easy to over-do it and end up with a significant amount of pain or injury.

Folding your hips safely

You should also ensure that your fold comes from your pelvis, deepening the hip creases, rather than your back. The spine will hang over your legs if the fold comes from your back. Visualize your hips as a bowl of water. To pour the water out of the front side, twist the pelvis forward. You can now fold deeply in a safe and effective manner.

Do you need a change in the position?

Depending on how comfortable it is, the feet may be touching or hip-distance apart. It’s fine to slightly bend the knees, although that will alter the pose’s effects. If you are bending your knees a lot, it’s best to have blocks under your hands so the posture remains a hamstring stretch.

Do you want to take on a challenge?

The Standing Forward Bend is one of the most common poses we practice in class. It’s a great way to open the hips and lengthen the spine, and is a wonderful start or end a class. But the Standing Forward Bend is also a bit easy to perform, and the lack of challenge can make it a little boring for students.

Open your shoulders

While forward bending, lock your fingers together behind your back. Raise your hands to the ceiling, then overhead . This incorporates a shoulder opening as well as a sense of balance.

Relaxed hamstrings

Start holding your big toes in a yogi toe lock while bending your elbows out to either side if your hamstrings are really open. You can go even further by placing your hands beneath your feet and turning your palms up. Your toes will reach the creases on your palms.

Alternate

It’s a good idea to alternate between a Flat Back (Ardha Uttanasana) and a Forward Fold to deepen this pose. With your hands on your shins, straighten your spine with your inhales. Keep your spine long as you forward fold over your legs on exhales. Repeat the process a few times.

Precautions to consider

woman standing on a mat in standing forward bend pose

This stance is similar to when you do a handstand, in that it involves balancing on the hands and feet. However, it is more about stretching the torso and spine than it is about building strength and flexibility. That said, strength and flexibility are still important, so you should always work within your own ability.

  • For example, if you find yourself experiencing pain from any part of your body while in the pose, please stop and carefully start to come back to upright position.
  • If you have a lower back issue, you should avoid this pose. As it may very well put added strain on you physically, and risk injury to yourself.
  • If your body is in a condition, where increased pressure on the head is not recommended then it be beneficial to not do it. Conditions such as glaucoma or recent dental bone grafts.
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