Over the past couple of weeks I have felt super energetic (spring fever perhaps?) and have been drawn to challenging yoga practices like hot vinyasa. So this week I had planned to share some kind of energetic yoga sequence with you. But then this week actually happened and I flipped to the opposite extreme. Now I am unusually tired and a bit low on energy. It’s ok – just the ebb and flow of life.
Since yoga is about listening to your body and inner wisdom, I feel I should do just that in what I write about. So instead I would like to share with you some thoughts and poses that focus on turning inward.
Surrendering to the gentle strength of Forward Folds
In yoga, forward folds are considered to be inward-focused and quieting. But they are also energizing. You bring energy to the pose. The way that you hold and squeeze your body releases, moves and changes the flow of energy. There is power in that gentle forward bend!
Even when you surrender into a really juicy forward fold, you don’t just collapse. Yes, you let go. But internally your intent is clear and strong. You create your alignment. You go in mindfully. Your body is relaxed but supportive and alive.
For example, in standing forward bends, your legs and arms support your spine and torso. This support allows you to surrender. As you find release in the muscles at the backs of your legs, your low back, spine and neck can lengthen more and you can deepen in. And then you may experience a sense of letting go.
Support your folds even more.
You can use props to support your body in forward bends instead of relying only on muscular effort. Props provide additional structure to the shape. This may allow you to go a little deeper, hold a little longer, and find more physical, mental or emotional space. Experiment with bolsters, blocks, pillows and blankets. Support your head, your torso or your hips. Forward folds plus props equals true bliss!
When you do forward bends, your sensory organs (eyes, ears, mouth and nose) are actually turned in towards yourself. It is an opportunity to turn your mind inward and observe what is happening in your own body. Forward folds can bring you into a state of active restfulness and awareness. Take this time to observe. Deepen your breath. Let go.
I love, love, love forward folds. They are my “yoga happy place.” If you feel inclined towards an inward-focused, forward-folding practice this week, give the sequence below a try. It is peppered with some of my favorites: Wide-leg Child’s Pose, Pigeon and Butterfly.
You can set an intention or affirmation at the start of your practice. Perhaps repeat it periodically throughout. Here’s one I like from Michelle Nielson: I am a powerful body, a powerful mind and a powerful soul. The strength in the mantra makes for a beautiful contrast with the quiet, gentle quality of the practice.
Do you have a favourite forward fold? Please share in the comments below.
A Yoga Sequence Starring Forward Folds
Turn your focus inward with this forward-folding yoga sequence of forward folds. Hold each pose for about 5 breaths. It will probably take about half an hour but varies depending on how long you choose to hold each pose.
Mantra: I am a powerful body, a powerful mind and a powerful soul.
Lie back on your mat. Stretch your legs out and let your feet fall open. Bring your arms by your side, palms up. Relax into your mat. Stay here for a few minutes to relax and prepare for your practice. Set your intention.
2. Knees to Chest (Apanasana)
Draw both of your knees to your chest. Clasp your hands or forearms around them. Keep your back flat on the mat. Relax your shoulders. Tuck your chin slightly. Rock slowly backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage. Come to centre and hold.
3. 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.
4. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Curl your toes under and press your hips up toward the ceiling. You will look like an upside-down “V” Press your chest towards your knees and your heels toward the floor. Press into the mat with your hands. Relax your head and neck.
5. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. On an exhale, fold forward at the hips allowing your torso to hang over your legs. Start with your knees slightly bent and allow them to straighten as your hamstrings open. Keep your spine long and relax your neck.
6. Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)
From standing, step one foot back about 3-4 feet. Feet are hip-width apart. Toes of your front foot are pointing forward. Your back foot is turned out slightly (45 degrees). Inhale to lengthen your spine. Exhale and fold forward over your from leg. Bring your hands to either side of the front food for balance. Repeat on the other side.
7. Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padatonasana)
Turn towards the long side of your mat and open your legs to about 4 feet wide. the sides of your feet are parallel to the short ends of your mat or toes are turned in slightly. Take a deep breath in to lengthen. Exhale and fold forward at your hips lowering your hands to the floor, fingers pointing forward. Keep your hands on the mat or grasp your big toes or ankles.
Move into Downward Dog.
8. Low Lunge
From Downward Facing Dog, exhale and step one foot forward between your hands. Lower your back knee to the floor. Slide it back until you feel a comfortable stretch. Inhale and lift your torso. Stretch your arms up to the ceiling. Relax your shoulders. Option: Add a slight backbend. Repeat on the other side.
Step back into Downward Dog.
9. Sleeping Pigeon (Eka Pada Raja Kapatonasana)
From Downward Dog, lift your right leg to the ceiling. Bend your right knee and bring it to your right wrist while releasing your left leg to the floor behind your. Square your hips to the front of the mat. Use your hands to bring your torso upright while expanding your chest. Fold forward over your right leg on an exhale. Repeat on the other side – left knee to left wrist.
10. Half Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs extended. Bend your right knee and step your right foot over your left leg. Right foot is flat on the floor, knee bent and pointing up. Inhale your left arm overhead. Exhale and twist to the right bringing your left elbow or hand to to the outside of your right thigh. With every inhale, extend your spine upwards. With every exhale, twist a little deeper. Reverse your legs and repeat on the opposite side.
11. Butterfly (Baddha Konasana)
Sit on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together. Gently pull your heels in toward your pelvis and let drop your knees out to the sides. Stay here or fold forward on an exhale bringing your hands to the floor in front of you. Option: Support your forehead with a block. (Video demo here)
12. Dead Bug (Ananda Balasana)
Lie on your back and bring your knees to your belly. Hold the outside of your feet with your hands. Open your knees slightly wider than your torso and bring then towards your shoulders. Your ankles are over your knees and your feet are pressing up as if stepping on the ceiling. Gently push into your hands. Option: Rock side-to-side.
13. Legs up the Wall (Vipariti Karani) or Savasana
Sit next to a wall so that the side of your hip touches it. Bend your knees to your chest. Gently lower yourself to the floor rolling onto your back so your legs are going up the wall. Relax your shoulders and let your arms rest at your sides, palms up. Soften your belly and breath deeply. Close your eyes. Hold for a blissfully long time.
Image courtesy of Kelly