I love forward folds. I like to sprinkle in some standing forward bends throughout my practice. And at least one longer-held seated forward fold towards the end. They are like the chocolate of yoga! So decadent.
Our days are full. We spend them days chasing kids, talking with others, working and learning. It is stimulating and exciting. But all of this can also leave you feeling tired and foggy brained. This is where forward folds really shine! They calm the nervous system and encourage introspection. Ahhhhh..
Benefits of Forward Folds
- Are soothing and calming. They turn your attention inwards. As you relax your spine, shoulders and neck, your focus turns inward. Your hear rate slows, your breathing becomes deeper and your mind settles. These physiological responses counter feelings of stress.
- Stretch and release tension in the backs of the legs, in particular hamstrings and calves.
- Strengthen and stretch your spine. The elongating action of forward bends help create space between your vertebrae keeping it flexible.
- Relieve tension in your neck and back. Try this:In Uttanasana (standingforward bend), it can feel good to wrap your hands around the base of your skull and let your elbows hang. This creates some added traction and release for the neck and upper back.
Tips for Forward Folding
If your hands don’t reach the floor in standing forward bends, use a block or chair. This extra support will help you relax and lengthen your spine more readily. In seated forward folds, sit on a blanket or cushion to elevate your seat. This changes the tilt of your pelvis and may allow you more freedom as you foldforward. If your hamstrings are tight, place a rolled blanket or towel beneath your knees.
Don’t force it.
Be mindful of pulling too hard on your toes or pushing yourself beyond what your body is ready for. Forward folds are more about softening and surrendering than pushing through. Move gently into the pose and then allow gravity to do the work. Once your muscles and tissues begin to open, then you may decide to move in more deeply.
Alignment is important.
Two key alignment principles to keep in mind with forward bends are:
- Fold at the hips (not at your waist) and
- Keep your spine long and torso extended as you move into the pose.
Straight or rounded back?
A student recently asked me if the spine should be straight or rounded in seatedforward bend. Generally, we are instructed to keep the spine straight. The main target area in this case is the backs of the legs. But in the Yin version (called Caterpillar), the spine is allowed to round forward. In this case, the intent is to allow the muscles to relax and gravity to assist in creating traction in your spine. I think both versions are beneficial and safe as long as you go into them mindfully. Stop if your feel pain and don’t push.
Forward Folding Sequence
Try this short and simple forward folding sequence. It would make a nice midday practice to ground and refocus. It would also be a lovely, relaxing sequence before bed.
Easy Pose with Forward Fold (Sukhasana)
Sit cross-legged. I like to sit on a cushion or rolled mat. Sit tall, relax your shoulders and extend your spine toward the ceiling. Begin to fold forward using your hands for support on the floor.
Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and rest your foot on your inner thigh. Allow the knee to fall open. Inhale and lengthen the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Turn your torso towards the extended leg and on an exhale begin to fold forward.
Seated Forward Bend (Pashimottanasana) or Caterpillar
Sit with both legs straight in front of you. Inhale arms to the ceiling and lengthen spine up. Exhale and fold forward bending at the hips and keep your spine long. Hold your toes, ankles or shins.
Sit with both legs straight in front of you. Fold forward over your legs, allowing your back to round.
Wide Leg Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Kneel on the floor, sitting back on your heels. Your knees are mat width. Take a deep inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward (butt stays on your heels) and stretch your arms our in front. Rest your forehead on the mat.
Are you a fan of Uttanasana or Paschimottanatasana? Or do you have another favourite forward fold? Leave a comment – I would love to hear.
Image courtesy of Amy