Asana of the Week: Uttanasana

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Posture) is your basic standing forward bend.  It is a pose of introspection and surrender as we turn the focus inward and bow to the highest self.  This deep forward fold has a calming effect on the body and mind, lowering the blood pressure and soothing the nervous system.  When we fold in Uttanasana, allowing gravity pull the upper body toward the floor, the spinal extensors and hamstrings are lengthened, and the muscles of the outer hip are given a deep release.  This is also a deceptively strong pose.  The feet and stabilizing muscles of the ankle and lower leg are working here to maintain balance.  The tops of the thighs lift and the inner thighs rotate internally while the abdomen is strongly compressed by the deep flexion of the hip joints.

In the beginning, engage mula bandha (root lock) and uddiyana bandha (navel lock) at the bottom of the exhalations to encourage the posterior tilt of the pelvis (sit bones to the sky!) and bring the body deeper into the pose.  Work toward keeping the bandhas engaged for the duration of the your stay in Uttanasana.  Be mindful of the distribution of weight in the feet:  the tendency here is to carry the weight back in the heels so that the thighs may relax.  Shift the weight forward slightly into the balls of the feet, relax and spread the toes, and notice how this engages the thighs, protects the knees, and releases the low back.  If the hamstrings are tight, bend the knees.

In a Vinyasa practice, we often flow into and out of this pose quickly, rarely stopping to breath here for a while.  In my own practice this week, I've been pausing in Uttanasana for 5-6 breaths here and there throughout my practice, and I've gained a new appreciation for the pose.  The release in the outer hips, specifically the glutes and piriformis, after a few breaths in Uttanasana is intense, and the action of the feet and ankles is very strong if the weight is distributed correctly.  The extension of the spinal muscles is pronounced after some time in this pose.  It also seems that the compression of the torso, which limits breathing capacity, encourages deeper action of the diaphragm.  When I come out of this pose after several breaths, I find that the inhalations are more full and effortless.  Below is a sequence I've been practicing a lot this week, exploring Uttanasana in a more focused way.

Uttanasana Sequence:  Notice the sensations in the low back, outer hips, and feet as you move through this standing sequence.  Hold each pose for 5-6 breaths unless otherwise specified.

1.  Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
2.  Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
3.  Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Posture)
4.  Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits Pose)
5.  Anjaneyasana (High Crescent Lunge)
6.  Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
7.  Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits Pose) - Yes, again.
8.  Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Posture) - Just 1 breath this time.
9.  Return to standing
10. Repeat steps 1-8.

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