Uttanasana is a standing forward bend—an intense stretch of the hamstring muscles and a lengthening and strengthening of the back muscles and the spine. Stand in Tadasana. Inhale the breath, root down onto the feet, stretch up through the legs, and elongate the spine as you contract the kneecaps and the quadricep muscles to help the hamstrings lengthen. Firm the thigh muscles as you lift up through the crown of the head.
Roll the upper inner thighs and groins back, keeping the lower back broad. Draw the shoulder blades into the back to lift and open the chest. Maintain active yoga feet, a strong lift of the inner groins and legs. Actively lift and stretch your side ribs and spine up and over as you exhale and bend forward, folding at the hips.
FIGURE 10-34: Uttanasana
FIGURE 10-35: Uttanasana, using blocks
Let the arms come down toward the floor. Place the fingertips on the floor in front of the feet (SEE FIGURE 10-34). The legs draw up so the spine can release down. Breathe and allow the effects of gravity to release the back muscles, spine, and head down. Contract the kneecaps and the quadricep muscles to help the hamstrings lengthen. Broaden the backs of the calves and the backs of the thighs.
When you are ready to come up, press the feet down and keep the legs really active, so that the strength of the thigh muscles support the stretch of the hamstring. This will prevent the feeling of locking the knees (hyperextension of the knees, pressing the knees back). Look forward, lengthening the crown of the head and the tailbone away from each other. Inhale and come up with a concave back.
You can practice Ardha Uttanasana (see page 130), until you feel ready to move on to Uttanasana. If the hamstrings are tight, use a block under each hand (SEE FIGURE 10-35). The knees can also be bent, allowing the spine to lengthen and the spinal muscles to strengthen.
You may want to widen the distance between the feet to hip width, or a little wider. Turn the toes in and come into the pose. Turning the toes in deepens the hip crease, making it easier to bend from the hips, and allowing the upper inner thighs and the groins to roll back. The benefits of Uttanasana include the following:
It reduces stomach discomfort.
It strengthens the back muscles and the hamstrings intensely.
It relieves mental and physical exhaustion.
It slows down the heartbeat.
It tones the liver, spleen, and kidneys.
It decreases abdominal and back pains during menstruation.