Also known as Uttanasana, this pose is a fundamental yoga pose that everyone should do, even if you have no interest in actually practicing yoga.
First and foremost, it provides a nice hip and hamstring stretch. If you've ever had tight hamstrings you know that it interferes with your ability to bend over or to lift your leg up. That limited mobility can make us feel old, not to mention lead to low back pain. Keeping the legs and hips supple makes us feel young and agile.
As you relax into a standing forward fold, gravity helps remove tension from your spine, shoulders, and neck.
A forward-fold calms the mind and alleviates stress and anxiety. This is a great pose to do when you are feeling stressed out or anxious.
Folding over squishes our internal organs, massaging and stimulating the liver while stretching the muscles of the middle and lower back which helps stimulate the kidneys. Because of this, Uttanasana is considered a cleansing and detoxifying pose.
How To Do It
Start by standing in mountain pose, inhale as you reach your arms up overhead. Engage your thighs to lift your kneecaps up. As you exhale, put a gentle bend in your knees as you fold at your pelvis to bring your belly to your thighs. Straighten your legs, pointing your tailbone up toward the ceiling. The fold comes from your pelvis, not from rounding your back. Allow your hands to rest in front of your feet, on your feet out behind/outside your heels. Feel gravity pulling your head toward the floor, lengthening your spine.
Uttanasana should feel great. If not, you are pushing too hard and need to back off.
Check out this quick How-To Video
There are standard variations of a forward-fold (e.g. standing or seated) and then several ways to modify each of these to accommodate your body.
Standing: Whether you are entirely new to yoga or this is simply your first Forward-fold of today's practice, if your hamstrings are tight, keep your legs bent. The main fold should come from your pelvis (not from rounding your back) so keep your belly in contact with your thighs to achieve this. As you slowly gain flexibility, throughout today's practice or over the weeks ahead you can slowly begin to straighten your legs.
If your hamstrings are very tight, place your hand on a chair in front of you rather than reaching for the floor. If you are feeling a gentle stretch in your hamstrings, you're doing it.
If using a chair removed the stretch but you aren't yet close to touching the floor, use a block to bring the 'floor' a little closer.
Once you can keep your belly in contact with your thighs and your legs straight, concentrate on bringing your weight gently toward the balls of your feet and allow the crown of your head to reach toward the floor.
Seated: Start seated on the mat with your legs straight out in front, and feet flexed. Inhale as you reach your arms up overhead, then as you exhale, bend at your pelvis aiming your belly down toward your thighs and your chest toward your knees. Keep your spine straight as you fold to keep the movement anchored in the pelvis. Once you are folded as far as you can go, you can remain there with your spine straight and breathe into the pose, finding relaxation in the stretch. Or, you can gently relax the torso, allowing the back to gently round forward and relax the torso toward your legs, letting your arms bend so that the elbows meet the floor.
If your hamstrings are tight, you may choose to use a yoga strap or similar item to loop around your feet.
Whether you are doing the pose standing or seated, whether you are using a modification or not, simply relax into the pose. Tune into your breath. Allow your exhalation to bring relaxation, feeling the muscles release. Let your thoughts go and simply watch your breath and enjoy the stretch...and feel the stress and anxiety melt away.
If you are feeling stressed or anxious, you may which to visualize the stress, anxiety, or bothersome thoughts draining out of the crown of your head and into the earth. There they are processed into positive energy and returned to the world as flowers.
I hope you will give this great stretch a try. You can do it in the morning after your shower or anytime throughout the day when you need to stretch out and release tension.
I love to do seated forward folds in the evening while watching TV.
Give it a try and let me know what you think!