Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). I use this pose a lot in both my personal practice and in the classes that I teach. I love it as part of my warmup and done with more intensity as my practice progresses. It’s one of those poses that make me go “ahhhhh….” Like coming home after a vacation.
Uttanasana can be a transition, a resting pose or even an active posture depending upon your intention. And there are all kinds of interesting variations with their own unique benefits. Here are a few of my favourites.
1. Uttanasana with a twist
I often do this variation as part of a warmup.
Stand with your feet hip-width (or wider) apart. Fold your torso forward, bending at your hips. Place your right hand on the floor under your face, about a foot in front of your feet. Extend your left arm toward the ceiling, opening your chest and shoulders to the left. Try bending your right knee to allow for a deeper twist. Do the other side.
This variation stimulates your entire back body. It is a twist, which means it is beneficial for digestion. It may also intensify the stretch on the hamstring of the non-bent leg. Play around with bending your knee to vary the stretch.
Ragdoll is a lovely variation as part of your warmup. It also makes a nice resting pose throughout your practice.
Start off in your usual Uttanasana position with your toes touching or feet hip width apart. Knees can be bent or straight. Rest each fist in the crook of the opposite elbow. It can feel good to sway side to side for a few breaths. Come back to center and stillness and hang out for a bit.
This gentle variation is great for your upper back. If you tend to hunch your shoulders or at a desk for long stretches, the added weight of your arms in Ragdoll helps to relieve some of that tension. Hold for a bit longer than usual and focus on taking deep, relaxing breaths.
3. Uttanasana with hands at base of skull
This is one of my favourites to do midday!
Start off in your usual Uttanasana position with your toes touching or feet hip width apart. Knees can be bent or straight. Interlace your fingers and clasp at the base of your skull. Bring your elbows inward toward each other. Don’t pull on your neck, but allow the weight of your arms to create traction in your spine.
I find this variation very soothing. The closed-in position, with your arms around your face, nurtures a sense of calm and turning inward. And it’s great for releasing tension in and around your neck.
4. Uttanasa with hands clasped, arms overhead
Move in to your usual Uttanasana position with your toes touching or feet hip width apart. I recommend starting with bent knees in this variation. Interlace your fingers behind you back. Lengthen your arms up and forward towards your head.
This pose is great for opening your shoulders and chest.
Technically this pose is called Padahastasana (hands to feet pose). So I am not sure if it really is a variation of Uttanasana. But it is to my brain and I love it so decided to include it here!
Come into your usual Uttanasana position with your toes touching or feet hip width apart. Bend your knees enough so that you can touch your hands flat on the floor. Turn the tops of your hands to the floor, palms facing up. Lift your toes and slide your hands under your feet so that your toes are touching your wrists.
Use your arms to actively pull on your feet. Gently begin to take a the bend out of your legs. Don’t be afraid to use your weight to put a bit of pressure on your hands. Use your toes to massage your wrists (sounds weird, feels great!)
Gorilla is great for relieving tension in your hands and wrists. It you work at a computer all day, you may well fall in love with this one!
Tips for Uttanasana
There are a few helpful things to keep in mind when doing Uttanasana no matter which variation.
- Tightness in the backs of your legs or lower back can limit forward folds. Use a block or chair to rest your hands.
- Always keep your intention in mind. For example, if you are going for a hamstring stretch and feel that at the halfway point, stop there. It doesn’t matter how deep you go or what the shape looks like. If you are feeling it in the target area, the pose is working for you.
- Gently shake your head yes and no to help relieve tension in your neck.
These are just some of the variations of this lovely, calming pose. I’ve mentioned my favourite Uttanasana variations, what are some of yours?