UTTANASANA (Deep standing forward bend)

Meaning: Intense stretch

–  This is one of the poses within the sun salutation sequence

Dristi: Nosetip

Preparation poses:

1)   Paschimottanasana  (West posterior stretch pose)

2)   Ardha Uttanasana (Standing half forward bend)

3)   Forward bend leaning on a chair

4)   Uttanasana with knees bent, then slowly engage quads to straighten

Steps:

1)   Stand in Tadasana with feet hip width apart and hands on the hip

2)   Breathe in and lengthen the spine by arching back

3)   Exhale and flex the hip forward by contracting the hip flexors (including psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris muscles)

4)   When bending forward, shift weight slightly to the toes

5)   Pronate both arms and press palms into the mat

6)   Activate the lower part of the trapezius to draw shoulders away from the neck

7)   Contract deltoids and biceps to flex the elbow

8)   Contract rectus abdominis muscles slightly to deepen the stretch and to protect the lower back

9)   Engage the quadriceps by pulling the kneecaps (patella) up to prevent knees from bending.

10)  Aim to flatten your torso against your thighs

11)   Hold in Uttanasana for 5 Ujjayi breaths, with eyes gazing at the nosetip

12)   Attempt to deepen the stretch with each exhalation

13)   After 5 breaths, slowly inhale and extend the hip joint by engaging the abdomen

14)   Return to Tadasana

Variations to Uttanasana:

Padangusthasana (Standing forward bend with bound toe)

Padahasthasana (Standing forward bend with palms under the feet)

Counter poses to Uttanasana:

Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)

Purvottanasana (East anterior stretch pose)

Muscles lengthening/Stretching:

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus (posterior), hamstrings, gastrocnemius

Muscles contracting:

Psoas, pectieus, rectus femoris, trapezius, deltoids, biceps, rectus abdominis, quadriceps

Stretch reflex in Uttanasana:

When bending forward, the muscles being stretched (namely hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae) will involuntarily contract in order to resist over lengthening. This is a protective response to avoid injury to the muscles. When the erector spinae contracts, the back rounds and this prevents deepening of the stretch in Uttanasana. When the hamstrings contract, the knees flex and this again prevents deepening of the stretch. Rounding of the back and flexing of the knees are very common mistakes when executing this Asana. In order to lessen the stretch reflex, relax into the stretch and practice passive stretching in forward bend. This allows the muscles to adjust to the stretch.

Contraindications to the pose:

1)   People with back injuries – Attempt pose with bent knees and move into the pose cautiously

2)   People with neck injuries – Always lengthen the neck and avoid compressing the back of the neck as you look forward

3)   People with Osteoporosis

Caution:

A disc bulge may occur if too much weight is borne by the Lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid rounding the lower back.

Benefits of the pose:

1)   Helps to reduce stress and calm the mind

2)   Stimulates the Pineal, Hypothalamus and Pituitary endocrine glands in the brain

3)   Stimulates the liver and kidney

4)   Improves digestion

5)   Relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and insomnia

6)   Helps correct spinal problems such as scoliosis