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Uttanasana is a specific kind of asana, a posture used in yoga. It is known as a standing forward bend, in which the body hinges forward at the hips, lengthening both the hamstrings at the back of the legs and the spine as it stretches toward the floor. Some consider uttanasana to be a resting pose, while for others it is a very challenging posture in itself; as always, it is important for any yoga practitioner not to push himself or herself into a pose for which she is not ready, because this can lead to injury.
Practicing uttanasana is relatively simple. It is best to begin in a standing posture, tadasana, with the feet firmly planted on the floor and the hands on the hips. On the exhale, hinge forward from the hips and bend forward, making sure to keep the spine straight, and not rounding the lower back. This will ensure that the hamstrings are stretched, and not the back. Beginners may simply hang the arms in front of the body and hold opposite elbows, while more advanced practitioners may be able to place the palms flat on the floor, or even grab the backs of the ankles.
In uttanasana, it is important to continue to lift and stretch the chest while keeping the spine straight. Eventually, the body will look as if it is actually folded in half, though it will take time to get to this level of skill in this posture. If the back begins to round, come back up until both the spine and the legs can be kept straight. The posture can be deepened by slowly lowering the upper body on each exhale. When getting out of the posture, the spine should still remain straight as one stands up.
There are many benefits to uttanasana. It helps to increase strength and flexibility in the legs, especially the hamstrings and the hip flexor muscles, and may help to stimulate the nervous system, so it might also help to reduce stress and depression or relieve insomnia. People who have back or hamstring injuries may not want to attempt this asana, or may want to make it less challenging by bending the knees slightly before hinging forward. Any questions about the safety of attempting uttanasana should be directed to a yoga instructor, and a physician or physical therapist will also be able to advise the type of exercise that can be attempted after an injury.
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