"The Standing Forward Bend provides a deep stretch of the legs and back, areas that are chronically tight for many people." - Andrew Weil, M.D.
Description & History
The Standing Forward Bend is a yoga pose that provides an intense stretch of the back and hamstring muscles. The Sanskrit name, uttanasana, comes from ut meaning intense, tan meaning stretch, and asana meaning posture. In Standing Forward Bend, the feet are together and the upper body is bent forward at the hips, allowing the head to hang with the hands placed on the floor.
How to Perform Standing Forward Bend
- Start in tadasana, or Mountain Pose, with your hands on your hips. On an exhalation, bend forward at your hips and bring your head toward the floor.
- As your head gets closer to the floor, reach out and place fingers or if possible, your hands, with palms down at the sides of your feet. Press your heels into the floor and lift your tailbone to the sky. If you cannot touch the floor with your hands, grab each elbow with the opposite hand.
- On each inhalation, lift your torso slightly, and with each exhalation, release to deepen the pose. Keep your neck loose and release any tension in your shoulders and neck.
- Continue this pose for 30 seconds to one minute. When you are ready, come out of the pose by placing your hands on your hips and engage your gluteal muscles and hamstrings to bring your torso to starting position.
Potential Health Benefits
- Relieves stress and mild depression
- Stimulates abdominal organs including liver and kidneys
- Stretches leg muscles including hamstrings, calves, hips, and gluteal muscles
- Reduces fatigue and increases alertness
Researchers studied the Sun Salutation Sequence, a specific sequence of yoga poses common in yoga practice, as a way to enhance overall body strength and endurance. The Standing Forward Bend is included in that yoga sequence. In the study, 79 subjects performed the 12-pose sun salutation sequence twice a day, six days a week for 24 weeks. Results published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine showed significant increases in arm and leg strength as well as a significant decrease in body mass index (BMI). Performing the Sun Salutation Sequence, including the Standing Forward Bend, can help increase muscle strength and may help promote weight loss.
Modifications & Variations
You may find it difficult to touch the floor with your hands with limited flexibility if you are a beginner. To avoid losing your balance and possibly hurting yourself, use a yoga block or chair for support as you bend down, until you are flexible enough to support yourself with your fingers or hands on the ground.
Open your feet slightly to hip-width while keeping your feet parallel and slightly bent, continuing with the pose for an easier version of the Standing Forward Bend. This modified version should allow you to increase the depth at which you can bend and possibly allow you to reach the floor if you were not able to in the normal version.
If you are an advanced practitioner and can place your hands on the floor, a modified version is to grasp your ankles and pull your torso closer to your legs. This will help increase the flexibility of the muscles in your legs and hips.
If you do not feel comfortable performing the Standing Forward Bend, consider substituting the Seated Forward Bend, which provides many of the same health benefits but while sitting instead of standing.
If you experience back pain, bend your knees slightly and perform the pose or use a wall for support when bending over. Also, if you have high or low blood pressure, take caution with this pose as it can negatively affect your blood pressure and lead to serious injury.
It is important that you do not bend quickly and forcefully while in the pose in an attempt to stretch the muscles further. This action, known as “bouncing,” can lead to muscle and tendon strain and does not provide any additional benefit over static stretching.
Reviewed by: James Nicolai, M.D., on August 1st, 2013.
Bhutkar, Milind V., Pratima M. Bhutkar, Govind B. Taware, and Anil D. Surdi. "How Effective Is Sun Salutation in Improving Muscle Strength, General Body Endurance and Body Composition?" Asian Journal of Sports Medicine 2, no. 4 (2011): 259-266.