January 11, 2012

Primary Yoga Series: Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

First things first:  ROLL TIDE ROLL!!!!!!!


You might remember this post where I talked about the Crimson Tide's loss to LSU earlier this football season.  It was a bit of an emotional post for me, but in the end it was all about celebrating my heritage as a life-long Alabama football fan.  Well,  this past Monday evening, the Crimson Tide redeemed itself by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game.  For the 14th time, the Alabama Crimson Tide is college football's national champion!  I am always proud to call myself an Alabama fan, but I was especially proud on Monday night. 


Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, Give 'Em Hell Alabama!

Now back to our regularly scheduled yoga programming. :)

Uttanasana, Sanskrit for Standing Forward Bend, is a pose that you will encounter in almost any hatha yoga class.  In most cases, you will repeat Uttanasana a half a dozen times (or more) during your practice.  Although frequently viewed as a transition posture, the standing forward bend is an asana in and of itself.

Note:  Remember that, in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes an asana as a "steady and comfortable posture," with the words 'steady' and 'comfortable' being of the utmost importance. 
Uttanasana may seem like a simple and relatively unimportance asana.  However, as noted by Yoga Journal, when practiced correctly, the standing forward bend has almost a dozen noted benefits, including:

  • calming the brain;
  • relieving stress and mild depression;
  • stimulating the liver and kidneys;
  • stretching the hamstrings, calves, and hips;
  • strengthening the thighs and knees;
  • improving digestion;
  • relieving the symptoms of menopause;
  • reducing fatigue and anxiety;
  • relieving headache and insomnia; and
  • providing therapeutic benefits for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis.

So how does one practice Uttanasana correctly?  Well, you're in luck(!) because in today's post we will be moving through the standing forward bend step-by-step, discussing proper alignment, and offering appropriate modifications.

  • Step 1:  Begin in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. 
    • Before continuing, check in with your body to ensure that your tailbone is lengthened, your spine is lifted tall and erect towards the ceiling, your shoulders are relaxed down the back towards your hips, and your lower abdomen is lifted. 

  • Step 2:  On an inhalation, circle the arms out and overhead.
    • The arms should be, and stay, in line with the ears.


  • Step 3:  With a flat back, hinge at the hips and begin to fold forward. 
    • Simultaneously, the thighs engage in an internal rotation by rotating in, back, and apart from one another.  This may seem strange at first, but the internal roation of the thighs allows the pelvis to tilt and the sitting bones to lift up towards the ceiling. 


  • Step 4:  Contine folding foward with a flat back and internal thigh rotation. 
    • Note that the arms are still in line with the ears!


  • Step 5:  When you can no longer fold with a flat back, round the spine, release the palms to the floor in line with the feet, and shift the gaze to the navel.


  • Modification 1:  If holding the arms alongside the ears places uncomfortable pressure on your low back, or if you feel as though you cannot maintain a flat back as your fold forward with the arms alongside the ears, you may release the arms out to the side in a "T" position during the standing forward bend.
    • Note that my arms are extending directly out from my shoulders (i.e. not in front of or behind the shoulder joint).


  • Modification 2.A:  If "Modification 1" is strenuous both on the lower back and the hamstrings, you may lengthen the arms alongside the ears (as in the traditional technique) and bend the knees.
    • Note that the spine is fully extended and the pelvis is tilted. 

  • Modification 2.B:  If "Modification 2.A" continues to be strenuous on the lower back, you may release the arms out to the side in a "T" position during the Uttanasana.


  • In both "Modification 2.A" and "Modification 2.B", when you can no longer fold with a flat back, round the spine, release the palms to the floor in line with the feet, and shift the gaze to the navel.


  • Common Misalignment 1:  Rounding the spine, and keeping an external rotation of the upper thighs (as opposed to an internal rotation that allows the pelvis to tilt and the sitting bones to lift up towards the ceiling). 


  • Common Misalignment 2:  Failing to keep the arms in line with the ears while either descending into the posture or ascending out of the posture.
    • Note that this misalignment may compromise the internal rotation of the thighs and may cause the spine to round.


  • Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend) Version 1:  From the full version of your Uttanasana, with an inhalation straighten your elbows and arch your torso away from your thighs, place your fingertips on your mat, create as much length between the pelvic region and the navel as possible, and continue to extend your heart center (where your sternum is located) away from the floor/mat.  


  • Ardha Uttanasana Version 2:  From the full version of your Uttanasana, with an inhalation straighten your elbows and arch your torso away from your thighs, place your fingertips on your shins, create as much length between the pelvic region and the navel as possible, and continue to extend your heart center away from the floor/mat. 
    • This version is partcularly applicable to those students who have tight hamstrings.


  • Ardha Uttanasana Version 3:  From the full version of your Uttanasana, with an inhalation bend your knees, straighten your elbows and arch your torso away from your thighs, place your fingertips on your shins, create as much length between the pelvic region and the navel as possible, and continue to extend your heart center away from the floor/mat. 
    • This version is partcularly applicable to those students who have tight hamstrings and lower back issues.


Question of the Day:

Do you catch yourself slumping your shoulders and rounding your spine while seated or standing?!  If so, practice a slow and purposeful Uttanasana and/or Ardha Uttanasana a half a dozen times a day!  It will help. :)

Blessings,
Ally and Bo

4 comments:

  1. Ouch! I am still hurting from watching you hold that position with all the pressure on the lower lumbar region of the spine!

    But on to better things....I still have great memories of carrying my little girl to her first Alabama game. I doubt you remember the older lady who, sitting behind us overheard me explaining the game to you and tapped me on the shoulder saying "It sure is great to see a nice young father like you bringing up your daughter right; spending time with her and teaching her about ALABAMA football", or words to that effect.

    Anyway, it just brought back a warm feeling in me as I relived those times.....

    Love,

    Dad

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, Dad, what I wouldn't give to have you in one of my yoga classes! :) Actually, I bet you would have fun; and over time, I think it would make your back feel wonderful.

    Any-whoo, while I don't remember that older lady specifically, I do have many wonderful memories of going to Alabama football games with you. In particular, I remember when we lost to Vanderbilt and we BOTH cried :( Oh well, Alabama has redeemed themselves from that loss many times over! Roll Tide :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. You had given out the effective terms on Uttanasana which is highly needed to procure the betterment in a generic way, Thank you so much. But the postures may gives the much more information for us.

    ReplyDelete