In Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend), enjoy the stretch in your legs and back that comes from leaning forward from your hips and creating long lines with your body. If you find your thoughts drifting or begin comparing yourself to others, simply return, again and again, to your breath.
This is a pose that, while straightforward in nature, can promote some complex self-reflection and stillness. As you lean toward the floor, you may notice your thoughts and emotions being stirred up. “When you take the shape of a forward bend, you fold in toward yourself,” says yoga teacher Natasha Rizopoulos. “This encourages a sense of introspection and stillness that is sometimes hard to find in postures that are more invigorating, such as backbends and standing poses.”
In Upavistha Konasana, as in all postures, it’s important not to let your idea of the perfect pose interfere with maintaining integrity in your practice—no matter what your bend looks like. Even if your version of the pose is more of an upright seat than a flat pancake, you can feel confident if it is done with integrity.
“The yogic sage Patanjali described the conflation of who you really are (an eternal soul) with who you think you are (the only one in the room who can’t get my chin to the floor!) as asmita, or egoism,” adds Rizopoulos. “This confusion causes suffering. Patanjali’s observation invites you to back off from a version of a pose that may be too intense for you (or even injurious). When your ego rears up and urges you to go deeper, remind yourself not to mistake who you are for how you do a pose.”
Sanskrit: Upavistha Konasana (oo-pah-VEESH-tah cone-AHS-ah-nah)
upavistha = seated, sitting
kona = angle
Pose type: Forward bend
Targets: Lower Body
Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend stretches the back and legs, stimulates the abdominal organs, strengthens the spine, and calms the mind.
Additional Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend perks:
0 seconds of 1 minute, 21 seconds Volume 90%
To prevent injury and allow for a deeper bend, spend time opening your hips and hamstrings before transitioning to this posture (see preparatory and counter poses below).
If you have the flexibility, grab your big toes with your first two fingers and help yourself to lean forward deeply. Bend your elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor as your torso descends. You may be able to touch your head to the floor.
Instead of trying to flatten your torso to the floor, lean forward into the pose only as far as your body allows without forcing the stretch or feeling undue strain. When your back begins to round, return to a neutral spine. Continue to explore the fold with a focus on the hip joints.Photo: Eleanor Williamson
For a less intense forward fold, use a chair as support. When you fold forward, rest your forehead and arms on the seat of the chair. Add a folded blanket or pillow on the chair or beneath your sitting bones for comfort. Stay for 1 minute or longer.Photo: Eleanor Williamson
If you feel restriction in your legs or lower back, support your abdomen with a bolster. Build an incline with a bolster supported by blocks. Add blankets until the incline is high enough to comfortably support your chest and either your forehead or cheek. You can tuck rolled blankets under your knees if that is more comfortable. Relax into this pose for several minutes to get the restorative benefits.
This pose stretches your entire back body and your hips, so prepare yourself accordingly.
Compare Upavistha Konasana with Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Look at the similarities and differences that make each pose unique in form and function, says Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. Baddha Konasana flexes, abducts, and externally rotates the hips. Upavishta Konasana is similar in this effect, although the knees extend and the trunk flexes forward as in Paschimottanasana.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.(Illustration: Chris Macivor)
Straightening the knees stretches the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles. Flexing the hips stretches the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and posterior fibers of the gluteus medius. Flexing the trunk stretches the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae.
Upavistha Konasana illustrates the agonist-antagonist relationship between the hip abductors (the gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata) and the adductor muscles that are stretching on the insides of your thighs. Press your heels into the mat and attempt to drag them away from the midline to contract the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius. This produces reciprocal inhibition and signals the adductor muscles to relax.
Evert the soles by tilting the feet outward, activating the peroneus longus and brevis muscles. Dynamize the arches by engaging the tibialis posterior muscles, and feel how these actions combine to stabilize the ankles and open the soles of the feet.
Firmly grasp the feet or shins and attempt to turn your palms up. This engages the supinator and biceps muscles. While you won’t actually turn your hands, you’ll create a rotational force that draws you a millimeter or two deeper into the pose. Flex the wrists. Hold tightly onto the feet and try to lift the hands straight up from the shoulders. Your hands will not move, but this action engages the lateral and anterior portions of the deltoids and flexes the trunk deeper. Finally, use the lower trapezius to draw the shoulders away from the ears, and feel how this opens the chest forward.
Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends by Ray Long.
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Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.