The Uttanasans or Forward Fold is one of the most basic yoga poses for beginners in your yoga arsenal. This pose is also one with some of the most tangible benefits. If you are an experienced yogi or just dipping your toe in for the first time, I encourage you to dig deeper into your folding practice and be mindful of what you find.
Yoga Poses for Beginners: Different Levels
I’m a very flexible person. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been able to touch my toes and then some. Sometimes I can see people looking at me in classes, and often they make comments about how they could never “be good at yoga” because they just aren’t flexible.
Yoga is an internal practice combined with external poses. The women you see folded up into pretzels are just at a different level; they aren’t better than anyone else.
It’s like reading a book- everyone starts on page one. You can’t fault someone for not knowing the details of the climax if they are still in the first chapter.
Yoga, just like reading, is a journey. No one is “good” at yoga or “bad” at yoga – they are just at different places in the book, so to speak.
One Day At A Time
I am grateful for my innate flexibility, but those without it shouldn’t be afraid to dive into a yoga practice. And remember, this post is geared toward Yoga Poses for Beginners.
I’m not going to claim to be a self-confidence fanatic. I too feel self-doubt, fear, and anxiety about going to a class sometimes. On those days, I take my practice to my living room instead, and that’s fine. The most important thing is not to stop.
The longer you stick with yoga, the more it will change you. Poses that used to seem insane now become possible, and when you manage them for the first time, the joy and pride you feel are like nothing else.
Your body gets stronger and more supple; so too does your mind. You’ll find that you are more aware of your moods and feelings and that in turn helps you pull yourself out of a funk or keep a happy streak going.
My yoga practice is a place of non-judgment and acceptance. Some days, I can forward fold with my legs straight, my hands on the floor, and my elbows bent. Some days my hamstrings and back are so tight, I have to fold in stages to let my muscles adjust, and on those days I seldom reach the floor.
I try to be gentle with myself and avoid getting angry or frustrated. Tomorrow may be better. It will certainly be different. That’s the great thing about yoga – it’s always there for you, no matter what.
Slowly, you’ll start to realize that the idea of mindfulness is not otherworldly, esoteric poetry, but a very real and very useful concept. You’ll start to link up the fact that you can’t touch your toes this morning with the fact that you didn’t sleep very well.
Then you’ll link that up with the fact that you ate a big meal before bed. This mindfulness starts to creep into every aspect of your life, and you question everything: “How do I feel today? Is my back feeling okay? Is my mind feeling okay? Am I being kind to myself today? Kind to others?”
Our world has become increasingly lashed to technology. Our focus has become external.
We stop thinking about what’s going on in our bodies and we focus on the world of the computer screen (or tablet screen, phone screen…). And yes, mindfulness of our bodies means that aches and pains can be worked out faster, and that’s great, but it also means gratitude for your body.
Without my fingers, I couldn’t be typing this. I’d find sitting in this chair difficult without my hips. Without my eyes, I couldn’t see the screen. Even while all my thoughts are bent on the computer screen, maintaining an appreciation of the body is important.
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga forces you to be aware of your body. You can’t leave that on the mat; it’s impossible. It has penetrated your psyche and worms its way into your daily life.
If you develop a yoga practice, you are going to develop an overall appreciation and awareness of your body. It’s the hidden gift of yoga, and you can’t avoid it.
Yoga Poses for Beginners: Forward Fold – Uttanasana
I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now, and forward fold is still one of my favorite poses. It’s an easy pose that can be modified for every level, and it’s a building block for the rest of your practice.
Not only that, it’s a deep pose. Who would have thought that simply bending over at the waist could have such a profound impact on your attitude, your mood, your body, and your worldview?
Talk about coming at things from a different angle! You’re literally seeing it upside down! The benefits of this pose are endless.
The Forward Fold is also a great way to relieve stress, both physically and mentally. The act of inversion lengthens your spine and lets gravity pull at it from another direction, which can help relieve tension in your hamstrings, back, shoulders, neck, and even face.
It also has an incredible effect on your mood. When I am stressed at work (quite often), I’ll go into the bathroom and stand in the forward fold for a few moments.
Besides feeling good, it’s hard to be grouchy when you are hanging upside down; it brings out your inner kid! So stand up and take a few minutes to play. Let’s fold!
Yoga Poses for Beginners: Getting Into The Pose
Start standing. Your feet can be hip-width apart or close together with the big toes touching and heels slightly separated, whichever feels more comfortable to you.
Play with each position; you’ll find that one causes different stretches and sensations than the other. If you have problems with balance, hip width is going to be sturdier, whereas your feet closer together might give you a bit of an extra stretch in your hamstrings.
Before you fold, take a moment to focus on your breath. How does it feel today? Is it easy, or hard? Flowing or strained? Try not to judge your breath, just notice it.
Focus on your breath and be thankful as it fills you with life. Don’t worry too much if you can’t “clear your mind,” because here’s a truth: NO ONE CAN. That’s not the goal. Just try to be aware of your thoughts as they stray, and gently remind yourself to come back to your breath.
Now, take a nice, long, luxurious stretch upwards with your arms. If it feels good, lean to one side, then the other. Notice how your breath feels different in this position.
With your arms still overhead, start to lean forward. If the balance is an issue, you can put your hands on your hips. Pause halfway, when your torso is parallel to the ground.
Instead of diving down, think about reaching out first. This will elongate your spine and give you a bit of an extra stretch. Go ahead and finish bending at the waist, as far as is comfortable.
If you’re like me, you might feel yourself pushing your abs out. It took me a long time to realize I was doing this, but when I relaxed my core, the stretch felt so much better!
You can bend your knees as much as you’d like. Bending your knees is not a sign that you can’t do this pose correctly.
If your knees are straight, you’ll feel an intense stretch in the bottom of your hamstrings, just above your knees. Bending your knees helps to move this stretch into the mid and upper hamstrings. Play with the bend in your knees and see what feels good to you today!
You can also play with your arms. Lots of yogis like to grab their elbows and sway side to side. You can keep your hands on your hips, thighs, calves, ankles, or the floor, whatever feels good. I like to throw in a little shoulder stretch and clasp my hands behind my back, letting gravity pull them gently toward the floor.
Now, settle in! Make sure you relax your neck. I tend to find myself looking forward a lot. Just relax your neck and let your head hang heavy.
You can stay here for a while, breathing gently, noting the sensations in your muscles. Can you feel your back and ribcage stretching when you breathe? Can you feel your face and neck muscles relaxing with the shift of gravity?
Take a few moments to notice the sensations in your emotions too – is this pose relaxing to you? Soothing your stress? Making you anxious? Making you feel playful or angry or upset?
Again, try not to judge. Just notice. Yoga is different for everyone and different every day.
Yoga Poses for Beginners: Getting Out of the Pose
DO NOT – I repeat – DO NOT come up out of this pose too quickly. If you are anything like me, you’ll get a short moment of feeling light-headed and see black spots in front of your eyes, and maybe even fall down. It’s not a relaxing way to end a relaxing pose!
When you start to feel like you are ready to come out, go ahead and move your hands from whatever position they are. Move them into either the floor or your hips. I like to have my hands in from of me for this, so I can round my shoulders forward and feel a nice stretch through my upper back.
Next, focus your attention on your tailbone. That’s where this movement is going to start. I think of my spine as a strand of pearls, and I’m slowly stacking them on top of one another until I’m standing again.
Keep breathing in and out as you roll up, always mindful of holding your breath. It’s an ever-present risk and even the best yogis find themselves doing it, so if you are, don’t beat yourself up. Just start breathing again.
If you don’t feel like standing, don’t! You can also use forward fold as a transition into a lower pose, like a plank.
From your fold, bend your knees as much as you need to place your hands flat on the mat. Then you can step your feet back to plank pose, or even hop both feet together if you are feeling daring.
Yoga Poses for Beginners: Think Less. Feel More.
The forward fold is a fantastic stress reliever. It’s also a mood-lightener, as it seems to be impossible to be grouchy when you are bent over. On top of all that, it feels great on the back, legs, shoulders, neck, and face.
If you are having a hard day or even a hard moment, go find somewhere quiet and private and fold for a bit. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.
Don’t tell yourself that it’s silly or weird or a waste of time. Tell those voices to shut it, and listen to your body for once. Turn your brain off, and tune into what feels good.
A helpful article by WebMD: Yoga for Men