Written by Kara Goodsell
In the second posture that comprises the Purna Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), we look at Uttanasana, a basic standing forward bend. The gesture of bowing down is an act of deep respect and humility, and represents our desire for balance, and a harmonious relationship with the earth and other beings.
The highest (head) joins the lowest (feet) as the heart is elevated over the brain. The seat of the ego at the solar plexus is empty and levitates as the palms of the hand and feet draw energy from the earth.
It is a pose that can be practiced on its own, or between standing poses because of its recuperative benefits.
Ut = intense
Tan = stretch
Asana = comfortable seat
Pronunciation: oot – tan - ahs - ahnna
Contraindications & Cautions
• Back injury: approach the deep forward fold with caution – practice this pose with bent knees or Arhda (half) Uttanasana with hands on the wall, legs perpendicular to torso and arms parallel to the floor;
• High Blood Pressure (hypertension): move into the pose gradually and remain only if the breath is not strained. Alternatively practice Ardha Uttanasana;
• Low Blood Pressure: Release from the pose slowly, as dizziness may be experienced;
• Late pregnancy: practice Ardha Uttanasana.
• Stretches the entire backside of body, especially legs and lower back;
• Elongates the spine and rejuvenate the spinal nerves;
• Massages and tones abdominal organs, kidney, liver and spleen;
• Increases blood circulation to legs, torso and brain and provides nourishment to the facial skin, scalp, eyes and ears;
• Beneficial for those suffering from anxiety and mild depression by calming and oxygenating the brain and revitalising the nervous system.
Uttanasana has two lines of energy radiating outward from your solar plexus or centre. The spinal column is the primary line of energy and the essence of the pose is to elongate the spine outward from the tail bone (coccyx) to the crown of the head (fontanel), allowing the spaces between the vertebrae to expand.
Start in Tadasana: place the hands on hips with fingers facing forward and thumbs pointing back. OR, as part of the Purna Surya Namaskar: turn the palms out and on an inhalation raise the arms above the head, shoulder distance apart, palms facing toward each other (Urdhva Hastasna).
On an exhalation, fold forward from the hip joints (keeping the knees bent to help protect the lower back). As you descend, lengthen and open the space between the pubis and the top sternum. Keep the knees bent as much as necessary to allow the back to hang without tension.
Place the hands beside the feet, fingertips in line with the toes.
Variation: A more gentle version of the classical pose is to take the feet hip width apart and cross the forearms, grasping the elbows (Baddha Hastasana) and allowing the torso to hang passively.
Alignment & Anatomical Focus:
Feet & Legs:
Establish Tadasana action in the legs: spread the toes. Ideally the weight is distributed evenly between the ball of the foot at the base of the big toe; the ball of the foot at the base of the little toe and the front of the heel.
Allow the energy to transcend, by engaging the leg muscles to the bones on all sides, as the front of the thighs and kneecaps lift. The action of drawing the legs up allows the spine to release down. Lift the skin on the backs of the thighs toward the buttocks, broadening the backs of the legs. Keep the thighs lifted throughout the pose.
Be careful to avoid locking or hyper extending the knees. If this begins to occur, micro-bend the knees to avoid over stretching the ligaments.
Turn the thighs slightly inward and broaden the backs of the thighs away from each other – this helps spread the sitting bones.
The ankles are directly below the hips and the back of the heels in line with the back of the buttocks
There is a tendency to shift the weight into the heels – if this happens be conscious to redistribute the weight by shifting the weight forward until you feel the balls of the feet taking some of the weight.
Pelvis and Hips & Torso:
The action of the hips is similar to the pelvic tilt in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Face Dog) - look for a feeling of moving from the groin area like a fulcrum.
The action of moving into and out of the pose is with the lower back in its neutral position – that is slightly concave.
As you bend forward, go as deeply as you can with the lower spine concave and the head and sternum looking toward the front of the room. Lengthen the sternum away from the pelvis and extend the chest forward. Keep the back of the neck long.
Lift the hips, as if trying to make the legs grow taller, lifting them wide toward the heavens.
Broaden the pelvis, so that your perineum smiles
Lengthen the side body, from the hips to the armpits.
Soften into the pose (on an exhalation), allowing the spine to round (convex) slightly and the head to hang from between the shoulder blades, experiencing the cooling effects of the forward bend.
Hands & Arms
Ideally the hands are at the floor to the sides of the feet. If the heels of the palms are not on the floor, stretch into the heels of the palms and take them toward the floor, with the arms straight.
Over time as the heels of the palms begin to rest on the floor, challenge the pose by taking the hands a little further back.
Allow the back of the neck to lengthen, the chin to soften toward the chest and the head to hang from the root of the neck deep in the upper back between the shoulder blades.
With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso, extending the upper spine. With each exhalation release a little more into the pose, allowing the torso to gently oscillate with the movements of the breath.
Surrender into the pose, letting go over and over. Relax inside and release, allowing the muscles to soften and lengthen, to become less hard due to tension and fear. Let go again and again. Play with your edge.
With the knees bent, on an inhalation, roll up the spine and come to standing in Tadasana.
Those with more experience may wish to release in a more dynamic way by lengthening the spine, lifting the sternum (and keeping the lower back concaved) move from the hips, lifting the torso to an upright position, simultaneously raising the arms above the head into Urdhva Hastasana. Once upright, release the arms by the sides and finish in Tadasana
1. Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Published by Random House 2002).
2.Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Published by Human Kinetics 2007