Many yoga poses look like origami and some are even named like it. Case in point: Forward Fold. But you won't need to twist yourself into a pretzel to feel the benefits.
This relatively simple posture stretches your hamstrings (which, odds are, feel pretty tight if you sit at a desk all day) and can help calm an anxious mind. Whether you're a newbie or an advanced yogi, make sure to add the forward fold to your next feel-good flow.
How to Do a Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips and let your head and arms hang gently.
- Press your palms on the ground or bend your elbows and cradle them in the opposite hands.
- Leave a slight bend in your knees rather than locking them.
- Hold the pose for up to a minute.
- Placing your hands on your hips, keep your back flat as you inhale and slowly return to standing.
Don’t force this stretch. If you need a modification, add a deeper bend to the knees or adjust the placement of your feet (narrower or wider) to find what’s most comfortable for you, Koya Webb, yoga instructor and author of Let Your Fears Make You Fierce, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
4 Reasons to Do the Forward Fold Every Day
Forward Fold is a great pose to start your day thanks to all its therapeutic effects, Webb says. Here are just a few of those benefits:
"The folding/hanging aspect of this pose signals to your body that you are in a relaxed state, which in turn calms the nervous system and relieves stress," Webb says.
And when you incorporate deep breathing, you get even more stress-busting benefits since breathwork activates the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the "rest and digest" mechanism that lowers the body's fight or flight (i.e., stress) response, per the Mayo Clinic.
In fact, doing yoga and breathing exercises can help ease anxiety and depression and promote positive feelings in the short- and long-term, according to a November 2019 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
2. Stretches Tight Hamstrings
Forward Fold is the perfect pose for stretching and lengthening tight hamstrings and calves, Webb says. And you don't even have to do it every day.
In fact, one small study found that just one 90-minute yoga session a week for six weeks (consisting of poses like Forward Fold) significantly improved lower back and hamstring flexibility, per the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Forward Fold also gently activates your hips, Webb says. Since tight hamstrings and stiff hips are often related (shortened hamstrings tug on the lower back, leading the hips to rotate backward), this pose can be especially beneficial for reducing hip and back issues.
4. Helps Promote Digestion
Forward Fold stimulates your abdominal area to help with digestion, Webb says. The position of the body (along with breathwork and pulling your belly button toward the spine) increases circulation and helps food travel more easily through the colon.
Deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve, which increases the response of the parasympathetic nervous system and leads to improved digestion, according to the Mayo Clinic.