Fundamental Yoga Pose 3: Forward Fold
Name: Forward Fold
Sanskrit Name: Uttanasana
Standing forward fold- uttanasana in Sanskrit- is a treat for the low back and hamstrings. Stretch out the back body and relax the mind with this simple but deeply rewarding posture.
Getting into the pose
First, find your mountain pose. Stand tall with a long, straight spine and draw your shoulders down and away from the ears to create space in the neck.
Once you have found your alignment, maintain the length in the spine as you begin to hinge forward at the hips. Keep the spine nice and straight and engage the core to support your low back. It is very important to bend from the hips, not the waist! This helps us avoid unnecessary strain on the lower back and ensures we stretch the muscles we are intending to target. Some people find it helpful to place their hands on their hips here so that they can actually feel the pelvis tilting forward.
Continue to bend forward slowly until you feel your back beginning to round. If you want to go deeper but don't have enough flexibility in the hamstrings to do so without rounding the back, go ahead and bend your knees as generously as you like.
On an exhale, relax your head, placing the palms or finger tips on the floor and resting the belly on the thighs (if you can comfortably do so). Alternatively, grasp your elbows and allow your upper body to hang down, stretching the crown of the head toward the floor.
Once you are in your fold, take a moment to check in with your body. Engage your thighs and breathe length into the spine. If you feel any strain in your lower back, bend deeper into the knees. If you are very flexible and can maintain straight legs in this pose, make sure your knees aren't locked but instead have a tiny microbend. This is also a great time to find some gentle movement, perhaps by swaying the upper body side to side or gently shaking and nodding the head.
Concentrate on keeping your spine long and remember that your neck is an extension of your spine! Try not to scrunch it up or bend it to look forward. Instead, allow it to relax completely, letting gravity do the work for you.
Why we do it
Spend a moment or two in standing forward fold and you will immediately begin to feel its soothing effect on the mind and body. We practice forward fold in order to:
- Calm the mind
- Stretch the hips, low back and hamstrings
- Strengthen the quadriceps (thigh muscles) and knees
- Relieve tension in the spine, back and neck
If your low back and hamstrings are tight, you're not alone! You can still reap the benefits of standing forward fold even if you can't touch your toes. Simply bend the knees generously, being careful to maintain that all-important length in the spine.
If more support is needed, popping a block under your hands is a wonderful option. This will provide more space for the hamstrings and low back and will allow you to lengthen the spine instead of rounding it forward. If blocks are unavailable to you, get creative! Books make for great stand-ins, as do chairs and other pieces of furniture.
You may need to modify if your back body is particularly tight or if you experience any pain or discomfort in the back while in the pose. As always, trust your body. Yoga should never be painful. If it is, it's time to modify!