Uttanasana probably seems like one of the least “yogi” of all the asanas. On first impressions, it appears basic and passive, not to mention uninspiring when compared to gravity defying jump-throughs, inversions, twists and, my evasive nemesis – Padmasana.
Given all that however, the humble standing forward fold has many merits. It’s the symmetry and the balance of strength and flexibility that makes this my favourite asana. There’s so much more going on Uttanasana than a simple hamstring stretch. You’re getting more bang for your buck than you realise!
1. Loads of muscles are being stretched:
I’ve mentioned hamstrings already as it’s the first place we notice tightness when we first start practicing this pose – the most intense lengthening of the muscles are happening here. But you’re also stretching the spinal muscles, gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, piriformis, adductor magnus, gastrocnemius and soleus. Muscles nearly the whole length of the body!
2. And you’re also building strength in other muscles:
The abdominals, psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris contract, and grow stronger, as you flex the hips and tilt the pelvis forward in to the forward fold. If you can hook fingers around the big toes, transitioning in to Padangusthasana, you can also deepen the hip flexion by contracting the biceps and pulling the trunk closer to the thighs. In addition, contracting the quadriceps to straighten the knees and lift the patella upwards, the nervous system triggers reciprocal inhibition, which leads me on to…
3. Muscles synergise beautifully:
The aforementioned reciprocal inhibition causes the hamstrings to relax and stop resisting the stretch. In other words, by contracting the quads you’re allowing the hamstring to stretch further, ultimately helping you to go deeper in to the pose.
4. It makes breathing a little more interesting:
Your body is pretty much bent in half due to that deep hip flexion, so the abs aren’t going to budge, not even for air. You’re going need to allow more breath in to the rib cage rather than in to the abdomen.
5. It’s the easiest inversion!
Your head is below your heart in this pose, so technically you’re inverted! And it comes with some of the benefits too; lowering heart rate and improving blood circulation.
6. It’s a healthy thing to do:
It aids the digestive system and stimulates the kidneys and liver.
7. It’s so relaxing.
After quite a bit of practice, I now find Uttanasana relieves tension in my back from sitting in front of a computer all day, it helps me reduces stress and calms my mind.
– Alex Ottignon