Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
How to do it
The key to proper form in Uttanasana is the ability to control the tipping of the pelvis on the way down and on the way up.
Begin standing with your feet hip-distance apart.
INHALE: Raise your arms up.
EXHALE: Gradually contract your abdomen as you bend forward, moving your arms out and down. Avoid taking a “nose dive”, keep your chest raised, but do not exaggerate the curve of your lower back. Gradually lay your chest and your belly over your legs.
INHALE: Lift your chest forward and up away from the navel, return into the neutral lower back position and maintain that back position as you go up.
PLEASE NOTE: In the viniyoga tradition we usually do not roll up into standing position because of potential anterior compression on the lumbar disks. READ MORE ABOUT IT>
Breathing in Uttanasana
INHALE: Lengthen the spine and expand the upper and middle back, moving the chest slightly away from the legs.
EXHALE: Progressively contract your abdomen as you pull yourself close to the thighs while keeping the spine long.
Moving in and out of Uttanasana
Hands and feet positions
Uttanasana is a great pose for both stretching and strengthening the lower back with different levels of intensity.
Hands on legs
Uttanasana: Hands on legs is an easier version of the pose that takes the arms out of the equation. That way the student is able to focus on the details of the spinal movement and still work with the lower back without challenging it as much. Lifting half-way up introduces the student to Ardha Uttanasana and proper alignment in that pose. It is excellent for strengthening of the upper, middle and lower back.
Uttanasana: Arms out is the version that I use most often. It has the same benefit as the traditional version of strengthening and stretching the lower back, but keeping the arms out encourages students to keep the chest wide both on the way down and on the way up, which decreases the likeliness of a hunched over upper back. We have to be mindful though not to turn it into “swan dive” either, which means exaggerating the lumbar curve. Progressive abdominal contraction is key here.
3 stages down
Uttanasana: 3 stages down is an excellent way to work on developing more control over progressive abdominal contraction. It teaches you proper technique for this pose and stretches your lower back gradually. Segmented movement like that is also useful when you are trying to lengthen your exhalation.
3 stages up
Uttanasana: 3 stages up is not used as often, but can still be helpful for mastering the technique of rising up to standing from a forward bend, and for progressive lower back strengthening. Segmented movement on inhalation is useful when you are trying to lengthen your inhalation.
Hands behind legs
Uttanasana: Hands behind legs creates a different sensation in your upper back, giving it the sense of width. It’s a good move to use if you need some support for the lower back and want to create some space between the shoulder blades.
One arm extended
Uttanasana: One arm extended is excellent for strengthening your back one side at a time and for stretching one side of the neck. It is easier than the full version of the pose with both arms extended, and helps to teach our students proper technique in that pose.
Uttanasana: Chair support is useful for students whose backs need a bit more support, or those who cannot bend all the way down because of high blood pressure, vertigo and other challenges. You can support your hands on the back or the seat of the chair, just make sure that you keep your head in line with the spine and keep your weight supported by your legs (not your hands).
Arms and feet options
Uttanasana: Arms and feet options shows you different options for arm and feet placement in the pose. Placing the hands on the floor is more challenging, and wrapping the arms behind the knees helps to stretch the upper back a bit more. Either way, you can bend your knees much more to keep the chest closer to the thighs. Rolling up the mat under the balls of the feet will help stretch the calves a bit more.