Ardha Uttanaasana: What The Hell Is Yoga’s Halfway Lift? (Or How To Flow Through Sun Salutations Safely)
In almost every yoga class today, we practice Ardha Uttanasana, the Half Forward Fold. It’s a key posture of the Sun Salutations, where it’s inserted before jumping back to Plank Pose and after jumping forward again, to the top of the mat.
We do it so often, yet it’s one of the most misunderstood postures. Yoga teachers have a slew of ways to describe this asana, some of which surely help, and others that probably cause more confusion. Here are some you may have heard:
inhale, extend your spine
inhale, arch your back
inhale, look up
inhale to a flat back
inhale, half way lift
None of these descriptions are necessarily wrong, but they don’t exactly describe what’s being asked of you. In a classroom setting, it’s difficult to describe it in the one breath it takes to flow through this pose, so let me break down what’s important for you and why we do it.
Why We Do It
Ardha Uttansana is an elongation of the spine along with both the front and back of your torso.
It’s also meant to be a back bend. When you inhale and lengthen, it’s to create an arch, or backbend, in your low back.
This natural curve is called lordosis, and is much easier to see and feel when you are in Mountain Pose or lying flat on the ground.
This curve moves the low back forward into the body, rather than back, towards the posterior. In the process it supports and protects the intervertebral discs of the lumbar region.
The “halfway lift” position is not about simply lifting up, hovering or just looking forwards with your head and face.
To keep your spine safe, it’s crucial to get the low back into something like a back bend in Ardha Uttanasana. You absolutely DO NOT want your low back to be rounding up towards the sky, because it is a position prone to injury, especially if you repeat it dozens of times in your Sun Salutations.
In the Full Forward Fold, Uttanasana, your lumbar region is also at risk if it rounds up towards the sky. In a more flexible practitioner, the spine hangs down away from the pelvis, using gravity to create traction and increased space between the vertebrae.
But, if you are more stiff in your legs or low back, then the “halfway lift” position is your opportunity to create this space for yourself. This is going to make your back and legs more flexible over time, and will protect you from injury in the flow of your yoga practice.
How To Create It
The lordosis needs to be created in Half Forward Fold by working your legs and the muscles around the pelvis and low back. In effect, it should feel somewhat like you are sticking out your bum. Here are step-by-step instructions:
- Separate your feet to hip’s distance
- Bend your knees and keep them parallel
- Climb your hands up onto blocks, your shins or your thighs
- Engage your legs by squeezing feet toward each other without actually moving them
- Now, press your upper, inner thighs back to deepen your groins
- Tip your low back into your body, forward enough to make it feel like a backbend
- Pull your chest away from your legs to create length in your spine
Over time, you can continue to work these actions and begin to straighten your legs. Just remember always to play the edge safely; you want leg straightening not to force your back to hump up skyward, or to shorten your front body.