Uttanasana is listed as a standing pose, but it can also be categorized as a forward bend. It is one of the basic asanas that comprise surya-namaskara, the salutation to the sun, which was the first series created by the masters to loosen the body. The English translation for uttanasana is “intense stretch pose.” Ut means “intense,” while “tan means to stretch, extend, lengthen out” (Iyengar, 92).
In preparation for uttanasana, you can stand up straight, inhale and arch back before exhaling and bending forward. Then, with a flat back, you should inhale and look straight forward before exhaling with your hands to the floor or shins. Although the legs are to remain straight, when first warming up you can have a slight bend in the knees so you do not hurt your back. Your belly should be glued to your thighs to do this.
All these movements should be graceful and slow with no attachment to the results. Remember that all asanas constitute only one of the eight limbs of yoga, and they are simply a means of preparing the body to be still in meditation. There should be no pain. Your breath should remain steady and calm. And when you feel comfortable in the posture, the fruits of your actions should be offered up to the Lord, or at least to something greater than yourself.
There are several variations you can do in uttanasana. Your hands can be placed on the backs of your heels with your forearms tight against your calves. They can also be placed flat on the floor behind your heels with your fingers pointed toward your feet or away from them, depending on your flexibility. If your hands touch your feet, you can bend your arms and grab the outsides of the feet with opposite hands. And according to 608 Asanas, stork pose and standing splits are two more (advanced) variations of uttanasana.
As in almost all poses, you should breathe through your nose and focus on the space between the eyebrows (the third eye). Focusing on the third eye in most asanas should help prepare you for meditation by increasing your mental concentration. Every asana, when locked in the correct position, should open your mind up to a specific consciousness. But physically, the main purpose of uttanasana is to stretch the back and hamstring muscles. It can cure stomach pains and relieves menstrual pain while toning several internal organs, mainly the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Having the head below the heart also generates some of the effects of an inversion, such as bringing fresh blood to the brain. It can also help to remove depression and calm excitement. If you feel uncomfortable or get a head rush when trying sirsasana (headstand), doing uttanasana first will make it much easier and more comfortable. After much deliberation, it appears to me that uttanasana is the standing version of paschimatanasana, which is one of the eight main postures of yoga. And because they have similar physical effects, I can only deduce they both “balance the negative and positive currents in the spine” (Gupta 86).
Gupta, Yogi. Yoga and Long Life. Yogi Gupta New York Center, 1958.
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga. Schocken Books, 1966.
Mittra, Dharma. Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses. New World Library, 2003.
Om, Chandra. The Holy Science of Yoga. North Carolina School of Yoga, 2009.