Forward bends create length and space in the spine, counteracting compression, and help in releasing the lower back muscles.
They vary from easy - we can even do one lying on our back by bringing the knees in for example – to strong when coming down from standing. Although they can seem easier than other poses, they also present quite a challenge to anyone with tight hamstrings. And if done without thought, there’s even the danger that common physical patterns, such as overstretched back muscles and rounded shoulders (most likely from sitting in front of a computer for hours) can be exacerbated by bending forward.
As ever in yoga, we can use these forward bending postures to explore our body patterns so we can find fresh ways of looking and experiencing ourselves.
Alignment is key to safe practice in forward bends, especially if you are prone to lower back ache, in my view. The safest way is the flat back technique - fold at the hip crease, moving the top of the pelvis forward. Keep the spine long as you fold, keeping the gaze ahead and making sure the neck and jaw are relaxed. Use the muscles along the leg to stabilise the knee, and think also about engaging the abdominal muscles to support the back.
Once you have hinged forward as far as you can go without bending down, then start to curve over bringing the hands into folded arms.
If you are stiff, try coming down with a slight bend in the knees. Props are your friends. Use blocks in standing forward bends if your hands don’t reach the floor easily which will help you lengthen the spine.
For seated forward bends, see if sitting on a yoga block or blanket helps, and use a belt rather than grab and pull on the feet. Above all, don’t force it. Think about effort and ease. Forward bends are not about how far you can go but rather how deeply you can release.
The sketches below give some tips about how to use the flat back technique.
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