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Yoga for Back Pain - Standing Forward Bend

Uttanasana

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Updated October 17, 2007

Standing forward bend can help some of the posture problems that cause back pain.

Standing forward bend can help some of the posture problems that cause back pain.

(c) Barry Stone
When you do a forward bend such as uttanasana, the weight of your trunk moves out of alignment from the rest of your body. Think of ideal alignment as occurring along an imaginary line through the center of your body around which your weight is perfectly balanced. This is called a plumb line. In uttanasana, as well as the other forward bends, your trunk, shoulders, neck and head are brought forward of this line.

This veering from ideal alignment makes the pose challenging. You will be tempted, subconsciously, to move your hips and legs in back of the imaginary line so you can balance the pull from your upper body. But don’t. This article will help you understand how to stay grounded and well-aligned during forward bends.

To help manage the challenge and use it to make strength, balance and coordination gains, it is helpful to first differentiate between internal and external support for this pose. External support involves using your hands and arms to brace you and keep you in the pose. With internal support, your bones are aligned such that the spaces in your joints are supported. Your muscles will work with one another to stabilize that alignment, while moving you more deeply into the pose. Supporting the pose internally will eliminate the need for external support, especially as you maintain your practice over time. For standing forward bend, there are some tools that will help you create internal support for the pose. As with any yoga posture, these tools begin with your awareness:

Bend at the Hips
Standing poses are great for developing awareness of your hip joints. Bending at the hips is a different feeling than bending at the waist. It is more like a folding; you can feel your whole pelvis move as one unit. You can help this along by aiming your sitting bones up toward the ceiling. They won’t actually go there, of course, but the intention will lend leverage to the action of bending at the hips. If you precede uttanasana with triangle pose, your hip joint awareness will already be warmed up.

Keep the Curve
When performing uttanasana, try to keep your low back curve intact. (If you are having problems locating that curve, take a minute to stand with your back against the wall. Notice where your back naturally makes contact with the wall and where it doesn’t. Slide your hand between the wall and your low back; that is your lumbar curve.) Again, by aiming your sitting bones up toward the ceiling, you can preserve the lumbar curve as you bend forward.

Make a Strong Foundation
With standing poses, your legs provide the base of support from which you move your trunk and upper body into the pose. If you make the base strong and well-aligned, you will be equipped to meet the challenge of the pose and reap the benefits. One of the best hints is to think of anchoring or grounding your heels directly down into the floor. Heels make great contact points that help stabilize the pose. You can develop this type of foundation in all of the standing poses, so warm up with tadasana, then move through triangle and side angle poses to uttanasana, or standing forward bend.

Stretch your Hamstrings
Forward bends such as uttanasana will stretch your hamstring muscles, located on the back of your thigh. If you have flat low back posture, this stretch may help prevent it from getting worse, or even to reverse the condition.

Prevent an Injury
If you are not strong, especially in your core or posture muscles, be sure to use yoga props to help you with this pose. Props are items such as blocks, blankets or straps that help bring the pose to you, when tight or weak muscles cannot fully bring you into the pose.

Take it easy when getting into the pose, and staying in it. This way you can find the level of challenge that will be safe for your back, but will also confer the benefits the pose has to offer. You don’t have to go all the way down, so position yourself in such a way that you remain stable for the entire time you are practicing this pose. If you have disk problems, you may want to skip forward bends, as this type of spinal action may bring on your symptoms, or worse, re-injure the area. Conversely, forward bends may help problems with the facet joints.

Sources:

Coulter, H.D., Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers and Practitioners. 2001 Body and Breath. Honesdale, PA.

Cole, R., PhD. Yoga Teachers' Course (Manual). 1997. San Diego, CA.

Mehta, M. and Arjunwadkar, K. Yoga Explained. 2005 Kyle Books. Lanham, MO.

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