Want to learn more about Hasta Uttanasana, aka Standing Back Bend? In this post, I share the benefits of Hasta Uttanasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
Hasta Uttanasana is one of the poses in the Surya Namaskar sequence, one of the traditional set sequences practiced as a warm up at the beginning of class. Practicing Standing Back Bend warms up and strengthens the muscles that support your spine and it also opens your chest and stretches your shoulders.
This pose isn’t a big part of my own personal practice. The teachers I have studied most with didn’t teach this pose very much and I don’t regularly practice the Surya Namaskar sequence. Typically my vinyasa classes have Surya Namaskar A or B in them instead.
And then there’s the fact that I am not a natural back bender. So when I do back bends in my practice, I like to be warmed up and have already done poses to strengthen and awaken the muscles needed for back bending.
If Hasta Uttanasana appears early in my practice, it usually doesn’t feel great in my body. I’d rather do Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Bhujangasana to wake up my erector spinae muscles (main back benders) before practicing a back bend like this.
But that’s just me. What it does for you, and when you put it in your practice, is your choice. It’s your practice after all.
This pose breakdown will help you learn a bit more about the pose so you can decide where and when you want to practice it.
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Hasta Uttanasana Quick Facts
Also known as Anuvittasana / Urdhva Vrksasana / Ardha Chakrasana (this is often with your hands on your waist)
|Standing Back Bend
|Hasta means hand.
Ut means intense.
Tan means to stretch.
When they are combined, Uttana means intense stretch.
Asana means pose or posture.
So, while we usually call it Standing Back Bend in English, the pose name literally means Hand Intense Stretch.
Hasta Uttanasana Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Hasta Uttanasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Hasta Uttanasana include:
- Stretches the muscles of the abdomen.
- Stretches and strengthens the shoulders.
- Opens the chest.
- Helps increase range of motion in shoulder joint and spine.
- Strengthens the legs.
- It helps to stretch the spine and build strength in the spinal extensors.
- Tones the arms.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people! If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- If you have an injury in your neck or shoulders, keep your arms at your sides or in Anjali Mudra in front of your heart.
- If you have a neck, hip, or spinal injury, you’ll likely want to do a different pose, such as Urdhva Hastasana. Listen to your body.
- If you have vertigo, this pose can trigger it.
- If you have high blood pressure, you should avoid this pose and practice Urdhva Hastasana instead.
- If you are pregnant, practice with extra care. Back bending can apply unwanted pressure on your womb.
- Tone your transverse abdominis to protect your lower back. Find your “hip points” (aka your ASIS) — those boney bits at the front of your hips. Then, imagine you are moving those two points in towards your belly button slightly (and actually do move them slightly) so that your belly engages a little.
Hasta Uttanasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Hasta Uttanasana / Standing Back Bend
- Stand in Tadasana.
- Squeeze your legs together like they are one leg.
- Lift your arms overhead as in Urdhva Namaskarasana (hands together, arms straight). Look up at your hands.
- Shift your hips forward slightly and push down with your legs. Tone your pelvic floor (Mula Bandha).
- Tone your belly. Move the space around your navel back towards your spine (Uddiyana Bandha) and move the front bottom edge of your rib cage down towards your back body.
- Lift and lengthen through the sides of your torso, lift through your sternum, and back bend.
- Move your thumbs back to help flex your glenohumeral joint (shoulder joint) more and deepen your back bend.
- Focus on flexing your erector spinae muscles. These muscles run lengthwise along either side of your spine and are your primary back bending muscles.
- Lift through your sternum, lengthen through your neck and look up. Do not throw your head back but keep your neck muscles engaged so you can breathe evenly.
- This is Hasta Uttanasana.
- To come out, lift your sternum up and forward as you bring your arms forward and back down to your sides in Tadasana.
- Wide leg Uttanasana (Forward Fold) or Balasana (Child’s Pose) make good counter poses to this back bend.
Modifications & Variations
If the full pose is too intense
To lessen the intensity of the pose, you have a couple of options. When practicing either of these options make sure that you are lifting through your side body and from your sternum.
- Hasta Uttanasana pose is often done with feet together and hands together. If you have tight hamstrings, separate your feet slightly and if you have tight shoulders, separate your hands slightly.
- Or you can bring your hands to your lower back and use your hands to support your upper body as you back bend. This variation is often called Ardha Chakrasana (or Half Wheel Pose).
To deepen your back bend (or for more support)
To deepen the back bend slowly over time, stand with your back to a wall, standing slightly away from the wall. When you come into the back bend, bring your hands to the wall. Over time you can practice walking your hands down the wall further which will increase the back bend.
Who knows, maybe one day you’ll even walk your hands all the way down to Urdhva Dhanurasana!
For help lifting your chest
To help get more lift in your chest and activate your upper erector spinae muscles more, interlace your hands behind your back rather than stretching them up and overhead.
If standing is difficult
You don’t need to stand up to get many of the benefits from this pose. You can practice it sitting in a chair and still do the upper body work, back bending over the back of the chair.
If you can’t straighten your arms
If you are unable to straighten your arms above your head, then you can use a yoga strap.
Make a loop with the strap and slide it around your arms right above the elbow joints. Tighten the belt so that your arms cannot move more than shoulder-width apart. Then lift your arms above your head. Your head man get in the way of the strap, so you’ll have to try it and see how it goes.
Another option, if it is difficult to straighten your arms overhead, is to bring your hands farther apart. To straighten your arms as much as possible, stretch from your inner elbows to your palms and flex the back of your arms (triceps).
If your legs turn out
Place a yoga block between your thighs to help strengthen your adductor muscles (inner thighs).
Your gluteus maximus (big butt muscle) has two main jobs: hip extension and external rotation of your legs. By squeezing a yoga block between your legs, you can limit the external rotation of your hips so your glute max can remain focused on taking you into the hip extension needed for the back bend.
If you hyperextend your knees
Extra care should be taken to engage your hamstrings so that you protect your knees.
Imagine that you are pulling your heels up towards your buttocks to engage your hamstrings. Over-engaging your quadriceps (thigh muscles) can pull you into hyperextension – by focusing on your hamstrings (the back of your upper legs) you can prevent this tendency.
Yoga Poses Related to Standing Back Bend
- Tadasana / Mountain Pose
- Urdhva Hastasana / Upwards Hands Pose
- Salabhasana / Locust Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Indudalasana / Standing Side Bend
- Uttanasana with Paschima Baddhanguliyasana / Forward Fold with Hands Bound Behind Back
- Wide Uttanasana / Wide Forward Fold
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Urdhva Dhanurasana / Upward Bow Pose
- Natarajasana / Lord of the Dance Pose
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / One Leg King Pigeon Pose
- Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana / One Leg Upward Bow Pose
- Tadasana to Urdhva Dhanurasana / Dropback
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: Crescent Lunge Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Hasta Uttanasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Yoloha Cork Yoga Mat with plant-based foam
- Yoloha Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
Save 10% on cork yoga gear
- Use our code AYO10 at checkout for 10% off all Yoloha yoga mats & gear.
Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Standing Back Bend
Hasta Uttanasana is a pose that comes easily for some people, and for others it is their nemesis. The great thing about the pose is that how much you back bend is totally up to you. Remember that it’s your practice. Learn to listen to your body and your mind and do what is best for today, and every day.
See you on (and off) the ice OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Standing Back Bend. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!