The popular Standing Forward Bend known as Uttanasana is an excellent warmup for inversions that will awaken your hamstrings and relax an overstimulated mind.
(Pronounced as "oot-AHN-AHS-anna")
The Sanskrit word Uttanasana literally translates to "stretching out deliberately or intensely." This posture helps give the maximum extension to your spine.
Stand up straight on your yoga mat in Tadasana with your hands at your sides. Your feet should be together with your legs straight. Inhale as you reach your arms up to the sky and then exhale as you bend forward from your waist to stretch down, reaching the fingers toward the floor. As you come down, be sure to lengthen the front of your torso as much as possible. Place your fingertips on the floor if you can. If you are even more flexible, then press your palms into the floor by the sides of your feet.
If you cannot touch the floor, then grab your elbows and simply let your head and torso hang down as far as possible. The longer you remain in the posture, the more gravity will naturally help your head descend further while lengthening your muscles. Push your heels firmly down into the floor and make sure you are standing with your legs perpendicular to the ground. Do not lean forward or backward. Open the backs of your knees while pulling your thigh muscles up and away from the knee caps. Roll your thighs slightly inward to help open the hips. Push your sitting bones up to the ceiling.
Lift your head up to look in front of you. Every time that you inhale, pull your sternum forward a little. Each time you exhale, let your belly drop down more as your hamstrings gradually loosen. Then on a long exhalation, bring your chest down to nearly touch your thighs first, and then your head should touch your knees last. Let the head hang downward from the very root of the neck, relaxing your neck completely.
It helps to rest in Uttanasana between your standing postures to catch your breath and relieve fatigue. In the beginning, you may only feel comfortable in the pose for 30 seconds. However, you will get great benefits from it as you gradually increase the duration of your stay in this pose.
Many people make the mistake of over-straining their back muscles to come out of Uttanasana. To avoid injuries, use your leg muscles to come out of the pose instead. Do this by engaging your thighs as much as you can, keeping the legs straight as you slowly lift the lower back up first, the middle back next, then lift the sternum and raise the head last.
You can help straighten and lengthen your back more by performing this posture while facing a wall. Stand about one foot away from the wall. Bend your knees and curl your torso down, bending forward to come into the pose with your back pressing against the wall. Now straighten your knees and walk a bit closer to the wall, using the pressure of the wall on your back to stretch and lengthen your torso downward.
To increase the stretch, take a deep breath and bend forward more to rest the head on your knees. Keeping your legs straight, extend your arms behind you so that your palms press into the floor behind your heels.
Padangusthasana is a posture that you may often do in a yoga class immediately after Uttanasana in a yoga flow series.
After you've come into Uttanasana, step your feet about one foot apart from each other. The outside edges of the feet should be parallel to each other.
Now grab your big toes between your thumbs and your first two fingers with the palms of your hands facing each other. Lift the head slightly up to look on the ground in front of you, making your back concave. Straighten your arms. Let your belly descend completely. Now on an exhalation, pull your torso down with your arms and keep your belly near your thighs as you bend your elbows out to the sides. Your head should come close to your knees.
Ask a partner to help you come into the head-supported version of this pose. First, stand tall and reach up, grabbing your elbows above your head. Then exhale as you bend you whole torso down, trying to pull your elbows down toward the floor. Extend down to your maximum. Then ask your partner to bring some yoga blocks and place them under your head so that they reach only high enough for you to rest the crown of your head on top of the stack of blocks.
They can also use a bolster and folded blankets if you don't have enough blocks to reach the right height. While you hold your elbows, your partner can sit on the floor in front of you and gently pull your elbows down a little more toward the floor to extend your torso further. Maintain your stability by keeping your thighs strong and active.
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