standing forward bend : uttanasana

swami lalitananda tests her limits in uttanasana

photo gregory crow

Sometimes life stretches us intensely. A pose like Uttanasana, which means “intense stretch” in Sanskrit, can be a perfect practice for the real thing. When we reach a limit, can we use it as a place of discovery? What is this tightness? What am I holding onto? What is holding me back? In the pose, we learn to enter a tight area by breathing, allowing, and finding a way to work with it.

We can take what we learn through the pose and apply it to a specific challenge. For example, this article was written, edited, finished — all about the freedom and beauty of karma yoga, renunciation, letting go — yet at the last minute I was asked for further revisions.

I have an instant emotional reaction. It’s done. Over. Don’t ask for more.

Anger: Why now?

Frustration: It’s the best I can do.

Pride: Do it yourself, then.

Underneath: How dare you criticize me?

I am stopped by my reaction, holding the tightness, refusing to go further. But with further reflection I can’t help seeing the humour in it. Here is the real test — can I practise what I know in theory? How do I let go now? What does it mean to truly offer my work without expectation of reward? I return to the pose with my questions.

Uttanasana is often a transitional position. After strong standing work in Warrior or Triangle or Tree, we stretch up, then bend forward and completely let go, releasing the head, neck and shoulders and reaping the refreshing benefits of an inversion.

I, too, can flip my reaction, reviewing the previous hard work I’ve done on the article, reflecting on the tantrum, releasing, and turning my ideas upside down. If it’s not working,
I can start again. In the original article I had written, “Sanyas[1]
is a verb — I’m in a process, not over, always becoming.”

I see the emotional reality is that I want it to be over when it may not be. Is that like karma — having my own idea that “I’m done,” when the Divine thinks I have lots left to undo? It would be easier if people just liked what I did and refrained from criticism or further demands. My ideal may be to act without attachment, to be present, adapt and let go; but the letting go can be the real work.

Here is where, as the Bhagavad Gita says, there is “action in inaction.”[2] Letting go is not a passive end in itself but a transition — a pause between breaths, a fleeting balance between steps.

My example is a tiny one. My overblown response alerts me to examine what more I can learn, how I can adapt and truly become liberated. It shows me the need for humility, listening, respecting; and teaches me that surrender includes actively engaging in what is there in order to expand beyond the limitation.

If I can respond to this simple request to do more — that it’s not over — am I not practising for the bigger, more intense stretches that life will surely offer?

In the Standing Forward Bend, Uttanasana (literally “Intense Stretch”), the action of movement can embrace the apparent inaction of letting go, embodying the paradoxical wholeness of opposites.

In the Standing Forward Bend, we can focus on letting go through stretching.

the pose

  1. Stand in the Mountain pose (Tadasana), then extend forward from the hips, keeping the legs firm and lengthening through the spine and torso.
  2. Lengthen from the hips as you bend forward, supporting the stretch by placing your hands on the floor or behind your ankles. Lift up with a straight spine in one inhalation.
  3. Observe your response.

Note: If your back or hamstrings are tight, keep your knees bent as you come forward and place your forearms on your thighs for more support.


  1. Reflect on the words “intense stretch.” Do you have a specific instance of an intense stretch in your life right now? Go into the pose and see what arises as you work with this situation. Use Uttanasana as a teacher to help you open to the stretch, to let go and see from a new perspective.
  2. Observe your body in the pose: What supports you and allows you to release? Ask: What gives me the security to let go in my life and in my work?
  3. Use the pose consciously to let go of an attachment to results. Accept where you are and be aware of what you feel after coming out of the pose. What are the benefits of surrender? \

Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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