Asana Addict – Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

asana-addictI’ve yet to do it, but I often feel like I could spend an entire hour in Ragdoll, a variation of Uttanasana. Other than in the partner-based practice of AcroYoga, I have never found an experience in my asana practice that gifts me with as much sweet-deep-down-sigh-and-relax feeling as this pose. As I trust my feet and legs, move my hands into the comforting catch of my bent elbows, and let length slide down my spine until the back of my skull feels like it’s floating, I arrive into such great ease and calmness.

While the greater practice of yoga as a whole lays a path for us to find more peace in general, there are moments and poses along the way that encourage us to remember that peaceful feeling, even when it seems a bit scarcer. This month, invite yourself into as much ease as you can in a version of Uttanasana that appeals to you, or pick a pose that speaks to your own heart the way this one does to mine.

ALIGNMENT AWARENESS:

- Keep the backs of your knees unlocked. Shift a small amount of weight to the ballmounds of your feet and spread your toes lightly apart so they’re not clenched. Press your feet energetically downward.

- Press your shinbones forward slightly, your thighbones back, and lift your kneecaps up to engage your quadriceps.

- Relax your neck and gaze into your shins, unless you suffer from vertigo- look to your toes.

- I once had a teacher, Michael Stone, teach folding forward as if you were vomiting. Ugh. I know. That’s even a terrible word. But. It helped. Instead of thinking of just folding down, fold up and over your pelvis so that your hip flexors (which get shortened enough from chairs) don’t feel smushed. Draw your belly mildly in and up.

- Bend your knees as necessary so this pose highlights spinal length and integrity, not just stretching the hamstrings as all costs.

Be kind inside if this is difficult. Let your pelvis tilt forward, with knees bending until the space closes more on the front body. If your spine juts straight out from the legs like a diving board and there’s enough space to fit a basketball in between your belly and legs, try this approach on for size and observe not just “How much stretch am I getting?” but also the oh-so-important, “How do I feel?”

- Arm variations: Hands/fingertips to floor, eventually beside feet. Hands clasped behind back for shoulder stretch. Arms crossed into Ragdoll. Reach palms around to calves/Achilles, hug elbows in and use arm and core strength to gently pull upper body more deeply into fold.

- If ease in a deep forward fold sounds more like a hilarious joke, try backing your bottom up against a wall. With your rump resting, walk your feet 6-24 inches away from the wall and adjust knee bend as needed. Let your spine soften over your legs like a welcoming into the pose, rather than a jamming into.

- Conversely, if you have healthily open hamstrings (we don’t want to overstretch them, either) you can turn yourself around and lean your back against the wall. Think of it as a yoga pose in the form of a wasabi pea…you might just come out and go, “WHOA!!” Fold forward away from the wall and place your fingertips down. Walk in gradually until you can still breathe evenly but there is a deep sandwich feeling between upper and lower body. Lean the weight of your body into the wall (trust that its got’cha) and lace your arms into Ragdoll for additional spinal decompression. Walk back out slowly and come back up s-l-o-w-l-y.

Courtesy of Bala Vinyasa Yoga.

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