Deceptively easy pose: Uttanasana

 Earlier this week, I wrote about how stagnancy can creep its way into our lives and our yoga practice. One way to move through such stagnancy in asana is to bring new mindfulness to oft-ignored poses. One such pose for me is uttanasana, or forward fold.

The way I sometimes execute uttanasana, you’d think it was called “fold over and hang out pose.” However, once I started to bring some intentionality to this pose, I rediscovered the muscles I typically ignore in my hamstrings, back, low abdominals, and hip flexors. As a result, I found a deeper release than I’d grown used to.

Below, I share some of the techniques I used to find a better stretch when my uttanasanas became lackadaisical. For this variation of uttanasana, you’ll need two blocks or books.

1. Place two blocks about 12 to 16 inches away from your feet. With your hands in prayer hands, bring your thumbs toward your sternum. Place your feet hip-width apart and distribute your weight evenly through all corners of your feet. Engage the low belly by drawing your navel towards your spine.

2. Bend your knees slightly. Keeping a straight back for as long as possible, fold forward as your hands sweep laterally downward. Imagine your abdominal muscles and hip flexors engaging and working together to pull your chest toward your legs (as opposed to letting your back do all the work here). Slowly sweep your hands to the outside of your feet, or to rest on two blocks or books. Begin to straighten your legs by engaging the muscles in your quads and behind your knees; to ease the stretch in your hamstrings, keep a slight or generous bend in your knees. Tuck your chin towards your chest — you may feel muscles awaken in your back, or even in your glutes. Hold the fold for three to five breaths.

3. Now, bend your knees slightly, straighten your spine and place your hands on the blocks. Press your hands firmly into these props. Draw your sternum toward the floor as you continue pressing your hands downward and away. Slowly straighten your legs as much as possible, and reach your hips slightly away from your props as you find extension in the hamstrings. Hold here for three to five breaths.

4. Release the props, exhale, and fold forward, with or without bent knees. Wrap your hands around your heels, shins, or the back of your thighs for a tight hug. Use your biceps to gently close the space between your torso and your legs as you tuck your chin. Hold for five to ten breaths —  you may discover a bit more openness in the hamstrings than you did earlier!

I hope that by re-exploring uttanasana, you’ll discover deeper relaxation and enjoyment in the pose. Let me know how it goes! Namaste!

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