Standing Forward Bend · Uttanasana
Standing Spinal Flexion
The standing forward bend when done properly essentially becomes the beginner's inversion pose. The spine is allowed to feel the opposite experience in relation to gravity, releasing compression in the lumbar, and tightness along the back. It's a great practice to do in the morning especially if the body is tight or you suffer from poor digestion. While stretching all the muscles on the back side of the body this pose tones the organs and muscles of the front.
As a warm up, or for people with tightness (hamstrings and back) start the pose with the knees bent as deeply as necessary that your chest comes as close to your thighs as possible. Move in and out of the pose. On inhalations roll the spine up to the Flat Back pose while drawing the abdomen in to create support and space through the vertebrae. Maintaining this length, exhale and allow the spine to move down as if rolling, first the chest, then the head. As you come down think of curling inwards towards your legs, bringing the head in as far as comfortable. Move in and out with a wave through your spine. After feeling you've created space and support stay in the forward bend. It can be done as passive hang, or as an active gripping inwards using the abdominal muscles. Get familiar with both options and work with what you feel to decide which version you would like to do.
The flat back position also depends on flexibility and body awareness. It can be done with knees bent as well, especially if the back is weak or painful. Lift as high as necessary to extend the spine. If this means the hands will come off the floor bring them to the legs and push backwards while reaching the chest forwards and slightly lifting the head and gaze. Try to lift up through the sit bones.
If you want to begin to work the deeper stretch into the hamstrings you can straighten the legs after folding down. If you are more flexible you can straighten the legs in the flat back, and then keep them straight while going down. Remember that the chest should be close or touching the thighs however. Those who can fold nearly completely down with straight legs can start to learn forward using a gripping support from the toes to stretch the back of the legs even deeper.