Uttanasana - TINT Yoga

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Illustration of Uttanasana Standing Forward Fold

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Uttānāsana
  • Etymology: Intense (ut); stretch (tā); pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: Uttanasana is a perfect pose to cool down from summers heat.
  • Asana Type: Forward Fold
  • Main length muscle groups: Spinal muscles, hamstrings
  • Main strength muscle groups: Muscles of the feet and legs (for balance)
  • Vinyasa Breath: Exhale

How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 To enter the pose from a standing position like Tadasana or Ardha Uttanasana, take your feet hip-width apart and press evenly into the feet. Fold your upper body over your legs on an exhale. Keep your knees gently bent while folding forward.
  • 2 Place your hands shoulder-width apart on fingertips or flat on the ground or on a block in front of you or next to your feet.
  • 3 Be sure to release the head and the neck completely, so that the crown of the head lowers down towards the ground. This will release any tension in the neck and shoulders.
  • 4 On every inhale, slowly lengthen your sternum slightly forward, so that the spine can extend a bit. Then on every exhale, release the spine downward into flexion. This will give the muscles and tissues encompassing the spine a nice stretch.
  • 5 If you have the capacity in the back of your legs, you can work towards straightening your legs.
  • 6 Lift out of the pose on an inhale.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

Learn about common mistakes and teaching perspectives of the pose in our Asana Tutorials.

  • Centering the weight towards gravity: Experiment with slowly shifting the weight in your feet to the front and the back. After a few rounds try to find the center of gravity, so that the weight in the feet is distributed evenly. This will break up habitual patterns and activate new muscle groups to engage in the posture.
  • Lengthen the backline of the body: Tilt your pelvis anteriorly (meaning tilt it forward) to create a little ‘ducktail’ shape in your lumbar spine. Let the back of the heels sink more towards the ground. Gently draw your sit bones more upwards, as if you were drawing a circle with your sit bones. This will not only help you to extend and lengthen the hamstrings, but also aid the lumbar spine with extending before letting it go into flexion.
  • Surrender into the pose: One of the most difficult things for practitioners in this pose is to fully surrender to the pose. Most of the time, when the pose gets a bit uncomfortable after a while (perhaps due to tight hamstrings, or because you are overly flexible and don’t seem to feel anything happening), practitioners tend to fidget, shift weight, twist a little or bend a knee. To reap all the fruits of Uttanasana, you can imagine yourself hanging like a soft blanket over your legs. Resist the urge to fight the pose or to pull yourself down by overly engaging the hip flexors. The latter will only cause congestion and tightness in the frontal hip joint.
  • Soften the palate and the jaw: As Uttanasana demands very deep work from your feet and pelvic diaphragm (which is your pelvic floor), for most people the palate and jaw tend to fixate or tighten, as they are closely connected to any actions in the feet and pelvic floor. Consciously soften the palate and jaw (you could try to exhale through your open mouth or to simulate a yawn) as this will send a stream of softness through your whole body.
  • Soften the belly: A soft belly will help you to create more release and length in your lumbar spine. It is also a great way to direct a prana assist to the most compressed part of the posture (which is your frontal hip joint) and aid to create more space in this area.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • If you feel that your back is really rounded and/or that you are pulling your torso down from your frontal hip joint, you can experiment with bending your knees more. Start with creating the pose in a way that your stomach really connects to your thighs. From here gently see how far you can straighten the legs without losing the length in the spine.
  • Give your sit bones some extra height and your hamstrings some extra length by propping up your heels. To do this, simply roll up your mat or a blanket and place it under your heels. You could even use blocks to do this. Try this version also if you feel that you have most of your weight in your heels, as this will educate you to bring more weight into the front part of your feet.
  • Use blocks in any height under your hands if you are struggling to comfortably place your hands on the ground. You can even use a chair to do this, if the blocks are too low.
  • Make the position more restorative and hold it for longer by using a block or two stacked blocks (or the seating surface of a chair) under your head. This way the crown of your head has a place to rest upon, as well as a point of reference for the downwards direction.
  • Increase the experience of the hinging over at the hips by using a folded (yoga) chair to fold over. Place the feet of the chair at about half a stance in front of your feet, so that the chair is at an angle when the backrest contacts your frontal hip crease. Let your upper body hang off the chair and relax the head and neck completely.
  • If you feel that your frontal hip joint is too tight and compressed, try placing a neatly folded blanket or towel in the crease of your hip joint. This will create a bit more space. Additionally you can work on sending your breath into that compressed space of the frontal hip joint.
    Broaden your collar bones and create space for your chest by bending your elbows a bit to the outside. This can help you to let the chest area sink deeper into the pose.

Level Up

  • Join your feet together to make one leg out of two. This variation will make it more difficult for you to balance, but also offer you a different feeling of centering. For this you can imagine the centerline of your body and draw everything inwards into your center.
  • Intensify the stretch of the hamstrings by using a wall as a prop. Place your feet about a foot length away from the wall, with your back facing the wall. Now place your sit bones against the wall. Draw your buttocks flesh out with your hands to make sure the sit bones are really connecting. Fold over your legs and press into your feet to extend the legs.
  • Give your sit bones some extra lift and challenge your balancing capacity by coming on to the tip of your toes in Uttanasana. Focus on creating the same sense of length and release in the spine, head and neck as you would with the whole feet on the floor.

Benefits of Uttanasana

  • As is common for all forward folds, Uttansana has a very deep calming and cooling effect, not only for the body, but also for the mind. This makes it a great pose when struggling with mental turmoil or when feeling overheated.
  • Uttanasana soothes the brain cells and calms down the heart rate, as the whole trunk is basically upside down.
  • The pose is also said to refresh the body and the mind and relieve anxiety, headaches, insomnia and fatigue.
  • By massaging the abdominal organs, Uttanasana can help to improve digestion.
  • It keeps the spine and the nerves of the spine long and flexible.
  • Uttanasana provides a deep stretch for the hips and the legs, especially the hamstrings and the calves. This is great for people with a shortened backline of the body.
  • The knees and legs build up strength and stability in this pose, as they are the main area of muscle activation.

On a metaphorical level, I always think of letting everything fall out of my head when practicing Uttanasana. This way I can clear out all my thoughts from what I don't need for the practice at the beginning of the class.

Stephi

Content Creator at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

The answer to this question depends on the energetics of the class that you are practicing and the outcome you want to achieve. In more dynamic classes like in Vinyasa yoga, the standing forward fold is mainly a transition pose. Here, you will work with the principle of one breath, one movement. If you are practicing a therapeutic yoga class or want to spend more time working on the details, the recommendation is to hold the pose around five to ten full breath cycles (one inhale and one exhale equals one full cycle of breath). If you modify the pose to be more restorative (e.g. by using props) you can extend the pose to anything from one to ten minutes.

There is no general answer to this question, as it all depends on the range of motion of your own body. If you have no trouble keeping your spine long when folding over your hips, it can be a great way of working on your hamstring lengths by actively engaging your leg muscles to straighten your knees. However, if your spine becomes round, or if your hip joint feels tight, the recommendation would be to start practising with your knees bent as much as needed, until you feel that your range of motion has increased.

You can use your arms as an extra weight to lengthen and release the head and neck. Simply take hold of your opposite elbows or interlace your hands behind your head and let the elbows pull you downwards. Be sure to soften the palate and the jaw if you know that you are holding a lot of tension in the head and neck area.

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