Standing Forward Fold, Uttanasana, can be a great way to bring length to the spine and massage the internal organs. It can also help us flow more easily with life.
While Cobra Pose (and other front body openers) can be more stimulating and invigorating, Forward Fold can be calming and restorative. This makes it a great posture for later in the day to lead up to or aid sleep and to decompress the spine after the compressive effects of gravity during the day.
Physically, Forward Fold, stretches the back body (calf muscles, hamstrings, back muscles), massages and stimulates abdominal muscles and organs and balances the flow of energy between upper and lower body while promoting connection. It's also an inversion allowing the head to be lower than the heart and stimulating blood flow. On a more subtle level, this posture can be a letting go... of control, resistance to life and seeming obstacles. I often describe it as Mountain Pose in the legs and a "waterfall" of the upper body over the legs. Strong stable legs and fluid, relaxed upper body. There can sometimes be fear around letting life flow when we are afraid that something "bad" might happen. This posture can assist in releasing such fears.
To practice Forward Fold, warm up the spine with some Cat/Cow (always a great warm-up... also suggested for Cobra Pose). From a standing position, with feet at hip width or wider and facing forward or slightly pigeon-toed, bend your knees a bit and push your hips backwards until you naturally start to fold or hinge at the hips while giving a gentle lift below the belly button if this doesn't happen automatically. Activating the abdominals helps release the muscles of the back. If you have any back issues or pain, put your elbows on your knees and just let your head be heavy (pictured above). Support the weight of your upper body with your arms, legs and core while allowing for the fold at the hips and bringing the head in line with the heart.
If there are no disc issues in your spine, you can fold deeper and let the upper body hang over the legs (pictured left). Be sure to give a little squeeze to the low belly and pelvic floor to support the back muscles to release. Similar to how the belly muscles work in Cat Stretch. You can hold your elbows, as shown if you want to add a gentle stretch under the arms and keep as much or as little bend in your knees as needed to feel the perfect amount of stretch in the hamstrings. Of course, there are more active variations of Forward Fold where you might hold your big toes or your calves, step on your hands or press on the floor with your fingers but we'll keep it gentle today.
Always listen intently to your body for the cues you need and learn from the wisdom stored within. If the body speaks through pain, it's asking you to pay attention and change or stop what you are doing. Make sure you also check with anyone who helps you take care of any back issues, like your physiotherapist or chiropractor.
To come out of the pose, bend your knees more and push down with your feet. You can bring your elbows to your knees if they aren't already and stay level for a moment to aid blood flow and come upright slowly with the legs still doing most of the work. Alternatively, you can bend your knees enough to place your hands to the floor and go back to a table top position for Cat/Cow again or Child's Pose.
May this posture (and others) help you flow with life and yourself with more ease. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions here or in class. Always happy to assist,