Standing Forward Fold. It’s a pose that often brings a sigh of relief amidst a challenging sequence. Though it certainly is a calming posture, the standing forward fold should not be mistaken for an “in-between” pose, or a transitional stance with no physical or mental benefits. All forward folds whether taken from seated or standing are very introspective and will enrich your yoga practice on many levels the more you practice them.
What is a standing forward fold?
The Sanskrit word for this particular pose is Uttanasana. “Ut” = intense. “Tan” = to stretch or extend. “Asana” = pose. The result? A standing forward fold is an intense stretch or extension pose.
What are the benefits?
The standing forward fold is a calming posture that lengthens the hamstrings and activates the inner legs. It helps relieve stress and mild depression, improves digestion and reduces fatigue and anxiety. However, while this pose may look simple at first, you want to make sure you understand the basics before pushing your body too far. (By the way, this is true with all yoga poses)
We all show up to yoga class with the best intentions. We plan to stretch, strengthen and heal our bodies, minds and spirits. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find injury instead, especially when we step onto our mats with a competitive mindset. We see our neighbor with perfectly straight legs, bending all the way down to touch her toes, and we try to imitate that - often before we’re ready.
Today, we’ll outline the steps to find a solid standing forward fold. And we’ll also offer a few pieces of advice on how to avoid common mistakes in this pose.
Step 1: Place 2 blocks (on the highest setting) at the top of your mat and then stand in Tadasana (standing straight up - Mountain Pose). Place your hands on your hips as you exhale and bend forward from your hip joints, not from your waist - lead with your heart not your crown. As you go, lengthen your front torso and create space between the pubic bone and your legs. Bend your knees generously as you begin to see how tight the hamstrings and low back are.
Step 2: You won’t be able to touch the floor quite yet (unless you are seasoned or naturally open), that’s A-OK and quite typical as a beginner. As you fold and bend from the hips and knees, place your hands on the two blocks ‘as if’ they were the floor. Take it easy at first. It’s important to feel out each pose and ease into your body and the shapes you are creating.
Step 3: With each inhale, press into the blocks (or take hands to shins right below the knee) and straighten your arms. Begin to lift and lengthen your torso slightly to a halfway position and straighten your legs (if possible). Lifting up on the kneecaps (engaging the quads) will also help to release the hamstrings. You’re looking for a flat back and tight core. Draw your abdominals toward one another to engage the low back and navel together as one. With each exhale, let yourself fall into the forward bend. Bend your elbows and knees as you lower the torso down toward your legs. Let the head dangle here and release the tension around your shoulders. The inhale you lift half way and the exhale you fall back into the fold. We toggle between the two linking breath with movement. The half lift (inhale) neutralizes the space between the vertebrae and the fold (exhale) increases the space between the vertebrae. Try 10 rounds to get the hang of it.
Step 4: When you’re ready to come out of the pose, either roll your spine up to a standing position or take your hands to your hips and lengthen your torso forward to the half way then to a standing position. Breathe deeply the whole way whichever route you choose.
Avoid these mistakes:
- Don’t straighten the legs in the fold if you have low back injury or pain, always keep bent knees until your back is healthy.
- Don’t keep the weight back in the heels. Instead, shift the weight more into the arch/center of the foot, even the ball mound of the feet so the alignment is distributed evenly from ankle to knee to hip.
- Don’t wear the shoulders up by your ears. Continually release tension and draw them into your back pockets.
The standing forward fold can be practiced as a rest between other poses, in which case you’ll often stay here for 30-60 seconds, or as a pose of its own. With time your hands will get closer and closer to the ground. Feel free to ask one of our awesome teachers for a little extra guidance before or after class. He or she can show you certain points for extra attention or practice.