As I learned in a Sanskrit workshop, there is often more than one definition for a word. According to the breakdown in Light on Yoga, Intense Stretch Pose is the chosen translation for Uttanasana, but we often know it as Standing Forward Fold.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this pose in the past. When your hamstrings are tight, it can be uncomfortable. When I was having low back issues a couple years ago, this pose felt like it would kill me. But now that my hamstrings are (fairly) open, I perform this pose frequently both on and off the mat. From experiencing both sides of the spectrum, tight and open, I have cultivated a great appreciation for Uttanasana. Dare I say, it might be one of my favorites.
Last Thursday was also the new moon in Gemini (my sign), so I have been doing a lot of internal reflection. Where do I want to be in 6 months? Who do I want to be there with me? What do I want/hope to accomplish in that time? It’s been a bit overwhelming honestly, but I also feel like I have a clear idea of my wants and needs. This pose, Uttanasana, is a great pose for when we need those moments of introspection. We are literally folding in on ourselves.
In the past I have struggled with not feeling comfortable diving into myself and acknowledging what I want in life. I think some of my discomfort in this pose stemmed from that. But as an adult, as a yogi, as a teacher, as a dreamer, and someone with more flexibility in my hamstrings, I now love the process. According to Iyengar, after this pose
one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow and the mind feels at peace.
So, without further ado, here is how to practice Uttanasana, Intense Stretch Pose.
- Stand in Tadasana. Lift your kneecaps up.
- Exhale, fold forward from your hips and place your fingertips to the floor. If possible, place your palms to the floor. If possible, bring your hands back to align palms with your feet, or even behind your heels.
- Lift your head, stretch through your spine. Keep your hips over your heels.
- Take a full breath.
- Exhale, fold in deeper. Bring your head to or towards your legs.
- Keep your legs engaged by pulling your kneecaps up. Keep your breath steady and even.
- Inhale, keep your palms down and lift your head.
- Take a full breath. Inhale, Exhale, lift your hands to your hips and stand up to Tadasana.
If you can’t get your fingertips to the floor, modify by placing blocks under your hands, any height that you need. Lifting the floor to meet you will help both your hamstrings and your low back. There’s no shame in getting a little help.