Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Standing forward bend, known as uttanasana in Sanskrit, is a simple forward fold that stretches through the muscles of the calves, hamstrings, and back. The pose massages the stomach organs for healthy digestion and benefits the spinal nerves, throat, and nasal passages. Like other inversion poses, uttanasana also relaxes the mind and calms the nerves.
- Begin in mountain pose (tadasana) at the top of the mat. Heel-toe your feet or separate them less than hip distance apart.
- Exhale and, keeping your knees soft to prevent hyperextension, bend forward from the hips. Extend (i.e. straighten and lengthen) the spine as you drop forward.
- As you bend, draw the lower belly in to make room for your torso against your upper thighs.
- Once you’ve bent completely forward, relax your torso. Instead of straining to move deeper into the pose, let gravity draw your upper body gently towards the mat.
- If your hamstrings are flexible, straighten your knees completely. Engage the muscles surrounding the knee caps to prevent hyperextension even when the joint is extended.
- If you can reach the mat, plant your fingertips or palms slightly in front of – or, better, outside of – your feet. If the mat is out of reach, cross your arms and grab onto your opposite elbows. Shift your weight forward, so that your legs are perpendicular to the floor. Let your arms and head hang loosely.
- Internally rotate your thighs by drawing the tops of them in towards each other. This will lengthen the back horizontally, protecting it and encouraging proper alignment of the inner hamstring muscles.
- Inhale. Extend your spine once again to prevent the back from rounding.
- Exhale. Draw your lower belly in to drop deeper into the pose. If your arms are planted on the mat, bend them backwards as you drop lower.
- Breath and hold the pose. With every inhale recommit to the spinal extension, with every exhale recommit to the bend.
- Place your hands on your hips. Inhale. Come straight up into mountain pose, lifting from the hips and keeping the spine extended.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Place a rolled up blanket under the balls of your feet. To deepen the stretch through the hamstrings and Achilles tendons in the backs of the calves, place a rolled up blanket under the balls of your feet in step one (above). Keep your heels planted firmly on the mat. This will angle the feet upwards, so that the stretch is more intense through the backs of the legs.
For a deeper stretch, stand on blocks. To deepen the pose even more, place a strap on the mat, vertical to the long edge of the mat. Place two horizontal blocks on top of the strap, parallel to each other. Begin step one (above) standing on the blocks. In step six, take hold of either end of the strap outside the blocks with the corresponding hands. Pull yourself deeper into standing forward bend.
Hold a rolled up blanket between your upper thighs and your lower belly. Yoga blogger Mary Scott suggests placing a rolled up blanket against your hips as you bend forward in step two (above). The blanket will encourage you to draw your lower belly in and place your torso firmly against your upper hips. Practice first with the blanket, then remove the blanket to see the difference.
Big Toe Pose (Padangusthasana). Like the block variation above, big toe pose adds pull to your standing forward bend. As a result, it is deeper and more active than the classic uttanasana. Instead of step six (above), grab ahold of your big toes with the peace fingers (your pointer and middle fingers) of your corresponding hand. When you exhale in steps nine and ten, bend your elbows to the sides to pull yourself – actively – deeper into the pose. Don’t turtle – press the inside bottom corners of your shoulder blades forward to keep space between your shoulders and ears as you pull down.
Hand to Foot Pose (Padahastasana). Hand to foot pose is a deeper variation of the classic uttanasana. Instead of step six (above), place your right hand under your right foot, palm facing up and wrist in front of your toes, and your left hand under your left foot in the same way. When you exhale in steps nine and ten, bend your elbows to the sides as you drop deeper into the pose. Hand to foot pose doesn’t include a pull like big toe pose, but it can be just as deep. Remember, don’t turtle – press the inside bottom corners of your shoulder blades forward to keep space between your shoulders and ears.
Standing Forward Bend II (Uttanasana II). In sun and moon salutations (surya namaskara and chandra namaskara), this standing forward bend variation immediately follows the classic pose. In step two (above), bend forward just half way. Skip step four, instead focus on extending the spine. In step six, place your hands on the mat or on your shins. Keep your elbows straight. Tilt your head up and gaze forwards.
Drawing the lower belly in as you bend forward massages your abdominal organs. This relieves gas, constipation, and indigestion for a comprehensively healthy digestive tract. According to guru Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the pose also increases vitality, improves metabolism, and boosts nasal and throat health.
The inversion also relaxes the nervous system, relieving stress and calming the mind. In addition, standing forward bend can relieve headache, insomnia, and the symptoms of menopause. Standing forward bend is a submissive, restorative pose (versus the more active forward bend of big toe pose). As a result, it’s the ideal forward bend for a bedtime yoga sequence.
Do not attempt standing forward bend if you:
- have serious back problems.
- have sciatica.
- have high blood pressure.
- have heart disease.
- have an abdominal hernia.
Standing forward bend is technically an inversion (although the hips are only half inverted), so women on their periods should exercise caution practicing it.
Standing forward bend is an irreplaceable part of both the sun salutation and moon salutation sequences. The forward bend counters the backbend of, depending on which salutation you’re practicing, either cobra pose (bhujangasana), upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), or low lunge with backbend (anjaneyasana).
In sun or moon salutation, begin in mountain pose. Inhale and sweep your arms over your head. Exhale and transition into step two (above) immediately. Skip step ten. Instead, inhale, look up, and transition immediately into uttansana II.
Triceps surae. The triceps surae consist of the gastrocnemius, in the back of the calf, and the soleus, in the front of the calf. These muscles stabilize the ankles and provide the power when walking and jumping. Standing forward bend stretches the gastrocnemius for more flexible, more resilient calf muscles.
Hamstring muscles. The hamstrings are the three long muscles that run along the back of the thigh. They extend the hip, flex the knee, and rotate the lower leg. Standing forward bend stretches through the hamstring muscles, adding flexibility. For best results, be sure to internally rotate the thighs to stretch the inner hamstrings as well.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Standing forward bend stretches the gluteus maximus and the outsides of the gluteus minimus.
Quadratus lumborum. The quadratus lumborum is located deep in the abdominal wall. When it is short and weak, the muscle is often attributed to lower back pain. Reaching towards the floor in standing forward bend, or just letting the arms hang towards the mat, stretches and lengthens the quadratus lumborum.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. Standing forward bend lengthens the deep back muscles of the erector spinae.