Standing Forward Bend Basics
Sanskrit: Uttanasana (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna)
Pose type: Forward fold
Targets: Full body
Why we love it: “Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) continues to teach me a lot about the process of practice,” says Yoga Journal contributor Chrissy Carter. “I love the process of building the architecture of this pose because I can absolutely feel the difference in my physical and energetic body when I tap into a more integrated approach. Some questions I ask myself: Where is the weight in my feet? Am I attempting to straighten my knees by pushing them back, or can I extend my knees by pressing my calves forward into my shins and then lifting the tops of my thighs up? Am I balancing the effort of tipping my pelvis over the tops of my thighs with the oppositional effort of drawing my outer upper thighs down towards my outer knees? When I find the relationship between all of these actions, I find the pose—and then it’s no longer about the pose itself, but rather how I’m connecting to the experience of being in the pose.”
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Standing Forward Bend calms the brain and helps relieve stress. This pose also stimulates the liver and kidneys, and stretches the hamstrings, calves and hips.
Standing Forward Bend: Step-by-Step Instructions
- Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the front of the mat with your hands at your hips.
- Inhale; lengthen your spine, and engage your quadriceps.
- Exhale; hinge at your hips, folding forward and placing your hands on the floor on either side of your feet, fingertips in line with your toes.
- Inhale; reach your chest forward and up, rocking your weight forward and pulling your arms straight.
- Exhale; keeping your weight forward and your front body long, fold in toward your legs, descending the crown of your head to the floor.
- Draw your shoulder blades away from your spine and toward your back waist so the base of your neck is spacious and uncongested.
- Notice if your weight has moved back into your heels; instead, press down with your big toe mounds, and rock your weight forward so your hips stack over your heels rather than behind them.
- Continue to engage your quadriceps to facilitate the release of your hamstrings.
- Hold for 5–10 breaths.
- Inhale; pull your chest forward and up again, extending your sternum away from your navel and broadening your collarbones.
- Exhale; place your hands at your hips.
- Rooting down firmly with your feet, on an inhalation, use the strength of your legs to press up to standing.
- Return to Tadasana.
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, bend your knees slightly. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking deeper into the back of your pelvis and bring the tailbone closer to the pubis. Then against this resistance, push the top thighs back and the heels down and straighten the knees again. Be careful not to straighten the knees by locking them back (you can press your hands against the back of each knee to provide some resistance); instead let them straighten as the two ends of each leg move farther apart.
These tips will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- If you have students suffering from back injuries, advise them to do this pose with bent knees or perform Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend) with their hands on the wall, legs perpendicular to their torso and arms parallel to the floor.
- For students looking to increase the stretch on the backs of their legs, advise them to stand in the forward bend with the balls of their feet elevated an inch or more off of the floor on a sand bag or thick book.
Variation: Half Standing Forward Bend with Blocks
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)