Climbing back on the yoga mat pose of the week: Uttanasana

Primary Source: Amanda Toler Woodward

uttanasanaUttanasana, standing forward bend, is one of my favorite poses. When I feel a migraine starting, a minute in uttanasana can ease or delay it and sometimes, if I catch it early enough, make it go away altogether. Uttanasana is on my mind today because my hamstrings are so tight I can’t do it properly. Why are my hamstrings so tight? From weeding for about 30 minutes. Sad, but true.

In order to even approximate the pose today I have to prop my head on something. The piano bench works nicely for the time being. After I bend and straighten my legs in this pose for a while, I should be able to gradually lower my head prop until I don’t need it any more.  Oh, look. There’s a puppy that’s about the right height. Nope. Too squirmy. Oh well.

Most of the time this pose isn’t really about stretching the hamstrings. Yes, they are involved, but on the best days uttanasana for me is about releasing the spine. When I’m loose in the hamstrings and the hips, gravity does all the work, pulling my head toward my toesies and stretching and lengthening the spine. It also encourages me to breathe more into my back ribs than normal since my front is a bit squished which helps stretch the cartilage between those ribs and keep them supple. And who doesn’t want supple rib cartilage? Seriously, it’s important for deep, full breaths and can help prevent breathing problems later down the road.

When I stand up, I feel taller and my head feels like it’s floating on my neck instead of jammed down into the top of my spine as it often does. Maybe I am actually taller. Not too long ago, when I went to the doctor for a checkup, the nurse was amazed to discover that I was a centimeter taller than before. I’m pretty sure any growth spurts are long past for me and that uttanasana, and my yoga practice in general, were the cause.

What does uttanasana do for you?

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Amanda Toler Woodward
Amanda Toler Woodward is an associate professor in the MSU School of Social Work. Her goal is to share reflections on a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy.
Amanda Toler Woodward

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