Forward fold, or Uttanasana, is one of the most challenging basic asanas. Beginners tend to measure themselves and make comparisons with other practitioners based on how bendy they are, but this is a counterproductive attitude that only leads to frustration and disappointment.
So what to do?
I suggest the right attitude is to look only at yourselves, appreciate who and how you are in the present and make a commitment to improve. You can also take a picture in the posture on the day you commit to start your yoga-flexibility focused journey, and compare it with another picture you will take in two of three months of constant practice.
It’s not necessary to train everyday, but doing exercises towards this specific goal at least three times per week will surely help.
To get into Uttanasana from Mountain Pose, imagine your body as made up of two sticks, the upper one, from the pelvis on, and the lower one, from the pelvis down. The only way you to bend will be closing the angle at the level of your pelvis. This metaphor helps avoiding curving the shoulders towards the knees, which involves closing the chest, with counterproductive effects.
Open your bandhas instead: bring air into your physical blocks by keeping your shoulders wide, opening your chest and focusing on your hips and glutes. Start by extra-rotating your pelvis: what does it mean? You simply need to arch little by little your lower back to create space in your pelvis: this is the gap that lets you bend forward! The more you can rotate your sacral bone and coccyx to the ceiling, the more you’ll manage to bend. You can also imagine having a tail that points to the floor which you want to turn up to the sky J
As you commit making to this mental and physical effort (which requires you to understand how your body works, then to connect your mind to your body), you can either place your hands on your hips, or make them slide on your thighs and shins as you bend. You can also help yourself with two blocks, placing them at the most appropriate height.
Always remember to relax your cervical: don’t try to look forward, lengthen and relax it instead!
If you are wondering whether you are executing correctly, use a mirror: you should see no curves nor arches, no strange misalignments. Symmetry is the key! If you still have doubts, just send me a pic or video at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, you can either keep your legs straight or bend them just a little bit to avoid hamstrings strain!
BENEFITS AND SYMBOLIC MEANING
Uttanasana has several meaning for our body and mind.
To mention the most important, on the physical level, it stretches hamstrings, hips and the lower back, increasing enormously body flexibility; it also strengthens the thighs and knee articulations, especially if executed with straightened legs.
Studies have shown that Uttanasana also brings benefits on the brain as it helps relaxation, and in some cases the alleviation of symptoms of depression, axiety and stress as well as insomnia, fatigue and headache.
Finally, it assists digestions and improves the functioning of kidneys and liver.