Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) is one of yoga’s most emblematic poses. We practice it in almost every style of yoga—as part of the Sun Salutation, as a resting pose between other standing poses and as a part inversion/part hamstring stretch on its own.
The most immediately noticeable effect of practicing Standing Forward Bend is, of course, the sensation in the hamstrings. But Uttanasana has many other benefits as well. Like most forward bends, it calms the brain and nervous system. It is also said to reduce anxiety and fatigue, improve digestion, help relieve symptoms of menopause and help with insomnia.
Popular depictions of Standing Forward Bend show a lithe yogi or yogini with folded in half with their nose touching their perfectly straight knees. Hands are often shown flat on the floor or grasping the ankles to pull the torso closer. These versions of Uttanasana aren’t realistic—or healthy—for most people. Over time, continually trying to force the torso into the legs could cause lumbar disc or sacroiliac injury, or impingement of the hip joints.
The good news is that touching your nose to your knees isn’t the point. Like all asanas, the point is to strike a balance between effort and ease. In this case, this means that the legs and feet are strongly grounded (effort) and the upper body is relaxed (ease). Placing your hands on a Yoga Block can help you find that balance.
Using a Yoga Block in Standing Forward Bend relieves stress in the low back and sacroiliac joints by shifting some of your weight to your hands. Without support under your hands, the entire weight of your torso pulls on the lumbar spine and SI joints. Using a Yoga Block helps you breathe more easily because your torso is no longer strained.
For a more detailed description of Standing Forward Bend, read this post.
Stand on a nonskid Yoga Mat with a Yoga Block on the floor in front of you. Place your hands on your hips and bend forward from your pelvis so that your pelvis moves forward with your spine. Your body may not go too far before you begin to bend from your lower spine instead of your pelvis. When you feel the pelvis stop moving, bend your knees so that you can bend forward safely: with your pelvis moving forward with your spine. Place your hands on your block. Allow your head and neck to follow the natural trajectory of the rest of your spine, i.e. neither lifting up away from the forward bend nor flexing toward your chest. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Bend your knees to lift up out of the pose. I suggest to my students that they stop halfway up, resting their elbows on their knees, before returning to standing. This helps eliminate the dizziness that sometimes accompanies returning to an upright position.
Our Yoga Blocks are available in cork, 3-inch or 4-inch foam, marbled foam, recycled foam or wood. Our Big Block is extra large for extra stability and comfort.
If you’d like to see more uses for Yoga Blocks, as well as the other props we sell, please visit our Yoga Props Guide.
Charlotte, I always look forward to your posts and appreciate your simplicity and overall approach. Thanks for continuing to provide these pearls to us! As we age, so many people have lower back issues and often the incorrect manner in which they pull on the lower back in the forward bend, resulting, as you say, from tight hamstrings, can often add to distress rather release!
Thanks, Shoosh! I could write a whole lot more about this. I also feel that our insistence on doing forward bends with straight legs has contributed a lot to the SI joint and hip problems that many practitioners experience after a few years of practice. So many people initially seek out yoga to help them deal with back problems. I think it’s important to make sure that whatever we’re doing in class doesn’t exacerbate the problems!