Seeing the full beauty of a pose
Open your heart, lengthen your spine, soften your brow and look forward with openness and optimism, while simultaneously strengthening and lengthening your hamstrings, calves and souls of feet, becoming grounded and strong with each inhale, and more open and expressive with each exhale.
You will find all of this in a beginner's pose, and a pose we do several times during a yoga class. It’s a pose that’s often overlooked; Ardha Uttanansana, your simple half forward fold. When we sweep through Ardha Uttanasana without care or attention, we miss a myriad of benefits for both body and mind.
The many benefits and how to squeeze out the value
Let’s begin at the fulcrum of this pose, the pelvis. Learning how to move your pelvis in the correct way during Ardha Uttanasana will not only serve you in this pose, but will transfer through to, and transform ALL of your forward folds.
First we must master the anterior pelvic tilt. If you are new to this movement then lets begin on all fours in a table top position with wrists underneath shoulders and knees under hips.
Inhale and arch your spine by tipping your sit-bones and tail bone skyward and also looking up. Exhale and move in the opposite direction by rounding the spine and tucking the tailbone down toward your knees and looking toward your knees.
Notice how the whole back moves, notice the most flexible sections of the spine. Often the area that moves the most is our upper back or thoracic spine.
Focus now then, on just moving the pelvis, tipping it up and down, keeping the upper back and neck as neutral as possible.
As you tip your sit-bones and tail bone skyward you are anteriorly tilting your pelvis and this is the movement we want in our forward folds.
Practice this in your half forward fold. From standing, fold forward and place your hands on your thighs, shins or on the floor (depending on your flexibility), keeping your back as straight as possible and legs as straight as possible, feel a comfortable stretch in your hamstrings.
Now bend your knees slightly more and create an anterior pelvic tilt by reaching your tailbone to the sky, this is an active movement.
Feel the intensity change in your legs. When we fold forward without this tilt, we are simply rounding more in the spine instead of finding the length that our bodies so often need in the hamstrings.
Cascade of length and strength up the spine
Moving from the pelvis and onto the upper back, chest, and shoulders.
As you tilt the pelvis up, feel this waterfall effect transfer up the spine toward your head. Naturally, the upper back engages along with the lower back creating strength and correcting a slumped posture.
As we lightly press our hands down we draw our shoulder blades together and open our chest. Gaze forward without arching the back of the neck, keep it in line with the natural direction of the spine.
As you can feel, this is a strong posture. We are strengthening the whole backline of the body, from the soles of the feet right up to the base of the skull. But we are also creating length along this line. A balance between length and strength, stability and flexibility, is one of the key physical benefits of yoga.
The Emotional Response
As we affect the physical body in this way we are simultaneously stimulating an emotional response, a postural response both mentally and physically. And we can deepen the mental and spiritual benefits by understanding them and meditating on them. For this backline we meditate on feeling grounded into the earth and of having a strong backbone, confident and stable.
As we do so, we feel an openness in the chest and a softening in the shoulders, jaw, and brow.
In this heart space, we meditate on releasing protection, and opening to expression and creativity. All the while finding softness in the upper shoulders, jaw and brow and accepting a kindness and gentleness toward ourselves.
This leads onto one of the most important lessons in this pose, and any pose; it does not matter if you can’t straighten your knees, or touch your toes. Meditate instead on santosha. Santosha is an attitude and state of being that is important in your spiritual development. It means to free yourself of cravings and desires so you are free to pursue your own calling without fear or manipulation. So instead of judging yourself or feeling disappointed that you cannot reach your toes with a beautiful straight spine and an open chest, you feel a contentment in where you are, you do not compare or judge. This is also an act of self-love; yet another pathway to your yogic spiritual development.
See, if you pay enough attention, you will find great physical, mental and spiritual growth in this simple asana, and likewise in all parts of your yoga practice.