A friend of mine asked me to post a couple of poses he could do after a workout. Today’s post, I focus on one such stretch.
Below, I walk you how to get into Uttanasana, the forward fold. The reason this posture is great after a workout is that it opens the hips, the calves, and the hamstrings, and secondarily on the back. With variations by using a chair, you can also get into the shoulders.
Please do not let the picture above scare you. This picture represents the fullest expression of the posture. I am aware that not everyone’s hamstrings are that flexible, especially runners and sedentary office workers. Remember, there are modifications and variations for everyone.
If your hamstrings are not that flexible when you try to come into Uttanasana, please bend your knees very deeply and connect your stomach to your thighs. That will protect the low back so you do not pull a muscle.
Uttanasana – The Forward Fold
- Begin in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. In Mountain Pose, the thighs are contracted and the abdomen is pulling in toward the spine.
- Inhale raise your arms up and look up toward your hands.
- Exhale begin to hinge at the hips to forward fold. Keep the knees bent if the hamstrings are tight. Also, keep the front side of the body open. Do not round in through the shoulders and thoracic spine (area of the spine connected to the ribs).
- If the knees are bent, focus on straightening the spine on every inhale and folding a little more forward on every exhale, lifting the hips upward toward the ceiling.
- If the knees are straight, keep the quadricep muscles contracted. A contraction of the quadriceps facilitates the opening of the hamstrings. On every inhale lift up on your quads and engage your abdominal muscles to lengthen the spine. On every exhale, relax the contractions and forward fold a little bit deeper, continuing the opening of the hamstrings, hips, calves and back.
- To come out of uttanasana, inhale halfway up so that the spine is parallel to the floor. Exhale completely, then inhale rise the rest of the way up to standing. Taking that extra second in Ardha Uttananasana, or half forward fold, will help stabilize the blood pressure so that you do not get dizzy going from a forward fold directly to standing.
Variations of Uttanasana
- If balance is an issue, you can perform this posture with the sitting bones on a wall. You can keep the knees bent and lean into the wall, or if the hamstrings will allow, you can straighten the legs vertically with the wall. Follow the same steps 4-6 above.
- To open the shoulders, use a chair in front of you. Place the hands on the seat of the chair and try to drop the head and drop the heart through your arms. To lessen the intensity of the stretch, bend your elbows and place the crossed forearms on the back of the chair. Still drop the head and try to sink your heart through your upper arms.
Benefits of Uttanasana
- Lengthens the hamstrings and calves and opens the back of the hips. Secondarily it stretches the back.
- Strengthens the quadriceps and the abdominals.
- Alleviates neck and shoulder pain.
- Aids in digestion.
- Helps relieve stress, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, and mild depression.
Do not perform the full variation of uttanasana with a back injury. Instead, bend your knees. You can also perform Ardha Uttanasana facing the wall with your arms pressing into the wall. Your torso and your arms are parallel to the floor.