Back to Basics: Advance Your Standing Forward Bend

Even if you could sail through Surya Namaskar in your sleep, we invite you to join us in revisiting the keystones of asana. Unlearn what you know, break your bad habits, and see if you can’t makeover your entire flow by re-focusing on a few foundational poses. Try an advanced approach to basic asana with SmartFLOW teacher trainer Tiffany Russo. Get #backtobasics with us all month on Facebook and Instagram.

You move through Uttanasana countless time in a single vinyasa class—twice in each Surya A alone. But how much thought do you put into it? If Uttanasana is is nothing more than a throwaway pose on your way to Chaturanga, you’re missing out on a lot of important work. For one thing, we call this a “forward” fold, not a “downward” fold. That means the proper folding action is to bend forward, extending the spine to the front of your mat, maintaining equal length in both the front and back of the torso, as opposed to collapsing everything downward toward the floor.

It’s also worth noting that the Sanskrit root word of Uttanasana is ut, which means intense. If you have tight hamstrings, you know why. If on the other hand you’re one of those people who was seemingly born with their legs behind their head, the challenge for you is staying mindful if the pose isn’t intense enough to keep you present with your breath. When practiced mindfully, Uttanasana is more than a forward fold and a hamstring stretch; it’s a great prep pose for inversions like Headstand, Forearm Stand, and Handstand. Learn how to make every single one count.

6 Ways to Practice Uttanasana More Mindfully

  • 1. Notice where the weight is in your feet.

    1. Notice where the weight is in your feet.

    When your hips swing back, past the ankles, as you move from Tadasana to Uttanasana, you take the hamstrings out of the equation and shift more weight into the heels of the feet. Imagine you are standing in front of a wall: Shift your hips forward directly over your ankles and feel the weight balanced in all four corners of your feet.

    See also How to Firm Feet for Balance Poses

  • 2. Protect your hamstrings.

    2. Protect your hamstrings.

    Press the tops of your calves forward, putting a small bend in the knees. This activates your hamstrings so you can lengthen them more safely.

    Now try this: Can you keep your hamstrings engaged as you move from Tadasana to Uttanasana?

    See also Anatomy 101: Understand + Prevent Hamstring Injury

  • 3. Bend from the hips—not from the spine.

    3. Bend from the hips—not from the spine.

    Think of the legs in this pose as strong pillars rising from the Earth. Fold the pelvis, along with the spine, up and over the thighs to reach the crown of the head toward the ground. If your hamstrings are tighter, bend your knees to release the inner hamstrings and see if you can notice how that allows your pubic bone to initiate the forward-folding movement.

    See also Basic Anatomy: Flexion vs. Extension

  • 4. Keep the front body long.

    4. Keep the front body long.

    Try to maintain just as much length in the front of the body as you do in the back. From your pubic bone to your navel, draw the belly in and toward your sternum. Then point the top of the sternum to the back of the skull and reach it toward the floor, right in front of your toes. Notice the difference between reaching the crown of the head toward the toes and touching your nose to your shins. Where do you find the most balanced spinal extension—equal space between each and every one of the vertebrae.

    See also Achieve Uttanasana the Safe Way

  • 5. Target the stretch.

    5. Target the stretch.

    If your hamstrings are pretty open, try to create a more active stretch in the belly of the muscle to avoid overstretching at the hamstring attachments. To do that, reach your sitting bones toward your heels rather than toward the sky, as you fold over your thighs. Aim to bend forward with enough control and awareness, that at any moment, you could stand right back up into Tadasana.

    See also Explore Your Hamstrings: Yoga Poses for All Three Muscles

  • 6. Don’t forget about your arms.

    6. Don’t forget about your arms.

    What do the arms do? By pressing the hands down into the mat or blocks, the feedback will lift the shoulders away from the ears and also work to broaden across the collarbones. With the shoulder blades at attention on the back body, the front chest is able to widen.

    See also Try Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) with Blocks

  • ABOUT TIFFANY RUSSO

    ABOUT TIFFANY RUSSO

    Tiffany Russo is an L.A.-based SmartFLOW yoga teacher and trainer, who has
    assisted Annie Carpenter with teacher trainings since 2010. You can find her teaching schedule at tiffanyrussoyoga.com.