How to Do Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Standing Head-to-Knees Pose, Intense Stretch Pose

Targets: Hamstrings, calves

Level: Beginner

Standing Forward Bend
Verywell / Ben Goldstein


As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, Standing Forward Bend (also known as Uttanasana) is done often in Vinyasa-style practice. In that sequence, it is performed both near the beginning and at the end. Do not rush through this bend, especially because forward bends allow your body to release more deeply over a longer hold time.


Standing Forward Bend stretches and lengthens the hamstrings and calves. It is common to have tight hamstrings if you run or play a sport that involves lots of running. It is regarded as a relaxing and stress-relieving pose. Traditionally, it is said to help relieve insomnia.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. From Raised Hands Pose (Urdhva Hastasana) with the arms reaching overhead, sweep your arms down on either side of your body to come into a forward fold from your hips. This is often called a Swan Dive.
  2. Bring your fingertips in line with the toes. Press your palms flat to the mat if you can. You can use blocks under your hands here if they don't reach the floor. 
  3. Microbend the knees so that they are not locked.
  4. Engage your quadriceps muscles and draw them up. The more you use your quads, the more the hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the thighs) will open.
  5. Bring your weight a little bit forward into the balls of your feet so that your hips stay over your ankles.
  6. Let your head hang.
  7. To come up, inhale and place your hands onto your hips. Press your tailbone down and contract your abdominal muscles as you rise up slowly.

Common Mistakes

Make sure your fold originates from your pelvis, deepening the hip creases, and not from the back. A fold that comes from the back will result in a curved spine that hangs over your legs. Instead, imagine your pelvis as a bowl of water. Rotate the pelvis forward to tip the water out of the front side. Now you can fold deeply in a safer way.

Modifications and Variations

You may need to modify this pose if it is uncomfortable or difficult at first. Once you have mastered the usual form, set a new goal and work to master a harder technique.

Need a Modification?

The feet can be touching or hip-distance apart, whichever is more comfortable.

It's OK to bend the knees slightly, though this does change the effects of the pose. It is better to use blocks under your hands if you are bending your knees a lot so that the pose is still a hamstring stretch.

Up for a Challenge?

Moving back and forth between a Flat Back (Ardha Uttanasana) and a Forward Fold is a nice way to deepen this pose. Use your inhales to come to a long straight spine with your hands on your shins. On your exhales, keep your spine long as you forward fold over your legs. Go back a forth a few times.

If you are very open in the hamstrings, try holding your big toes in a yogi toe lock while bending your elbows out to either side. You can also take this one step further by bringing your hands underneath your feet with the palms turned up. Your toes will come to your palm creases.

Interlace your fingers behind your back while forward bending. Draw your hands up to the ceiling and them overhead. This introduces a shoulder opener and the element of balance.

Safety and Precautions

It's best to avoid this pose if you have an injury to your lower back. You should not do it if you have any condition where you must avoid high pressure to your head, such as glaucoma or recent dental bone grafts.

If you feel any pain during the pose, stop and rise back slowly to vertical.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.