In my own practice, I’m more likely to stay interested in a pose if I know WHY I’m there and what I may be gaining or uncovering both physically and energetically.
Last week while teaching paschimottanasana – seated forward fold – I mentioned that forward folds are associated with cultivating reverence for the physical form. After a class a woman came up to me and told me she had always felt a deep reverence for her body in folding postures. Especially, she noted, her feet. I believe the exact quotation was “I feel very affectionate towards my feet in forward folds!” How wonderful!
RuPaul has something to share about self-love.
When you practice yoga, you involve your physical body, your body systems (digestive, nervous, etc), and your energetic body. And when you start to tune in and intentionally notice what “letting go” or “cultivating reverence for the physical body” really FEELS like, you can amplify a posture’s affect on your energy and mood. You get to explore your body in new ways! And you can start using yoga postures in your life off the mat to cultivate feelings of energy, calm, reverence, etc.
I’ve already written about the physical, energetic, and emotional benefits of arm balances and inversions. Today let’s talk about forward folds, shall we? Physically, forward folds increase flexibility in hips and hamstrings. They also open and decongest the spine, massage the digestive organs, and calm the nervous system. Energetically, forward folds calm the mind. They are associated with releasing feelings, thoughts, emotions that are not serving you, and cultivating reverence for the physical body.
There are many many forward folds to work on. For today, let’s stick with seated forward fold, paschimottanasana.
1) Come into dandasana – staff pose.
Photo from Yoga Magazine.
If you find that your lower back rounds in dandasana, place a blanket under your sits bones so you’re able to sit with a straight spine. Press out through the inside edge of your feet to turn on your leg muscles. Draw navel to spine. Press down through your arms on the outside of your hips as you lengthen through your crown – as if someone has a hold of the swirl of hair at the back of your crown and they are gently pulling up. Feel your neck extend. Stay here for several breaths. It’s helpful to me to keep working through the cues I just mentioned as I sit (press out through your feet, draw navel to spine, press down through arms, lengthen through spine, repeat, repeat, repeat).
2) On an inhale, lift your arms while keeping your shoulder blades on your back. Feel the space you’ve created in your side body.
3) Keep all that space as you slowly hinge at the hips on an exhale. To start with, keep a strong, flat back so you’re leading with your heart toward the front of the room (as opposed to your forehead to shin). Notice when the stretch begins. It may be right away if you have tighter hamstrings. If you’re more flexible in that area, you may lower many inches before you feel the first stretch.
4) When you find your final edge (the point where you would need to start rounding your back to go any deeper) sit at the edge for 2 deep breaths. It’s a lot of work! Keeping your shoulders on your back, reach your arms toward the front of your space. Don’t forget to keep your navel drawn in towards your spine to protect your lower back.
5) When you’re ready, exhale your arms down to your legs, feet, floor, or a block. Keep your low back flat for safety. If, with a flat back, your upper body can rest comfortably on your thighs, it’s ok to round a bit in your upper spine.
6) Oh what? You thought you were done now? No no no. Ah yes. This is where many of us check out . . .start thinking about what we’ll do after class . . . I should get almonds when I go to the store . . . it looks like it might rain, I hope I beat it home . . . my boss’s email was really unnecessarily rude . . . Notice those thoughts. And breath them out. There are still many benefits to be reaped! Forward folds are a dynamic posture. On every inhale, extend through your spine to send the crown of your head toward the front of your space uncurling (straightening) your back. On every exhale, melt deeper into the pose. Practice finding your full range of motion. Pulsing with your breath can help to open up your hamstrings and keep you connected to your body.
7) Notice how you feel. Remember the energetic benefits of forward folds. How might it FEEL to let go? To feel reverence for your physical form? Where does that land in the body? Stay here several breaths.
8) When you’re ready to come out walk your hands up your legs to stack your spine. Notice how you feel.
Forward folds are safe for most people. If you have uncontrolled high pressure and/or heart conditions you should stick with gentle forward folds and avoid raising your arms over your head or lowering your head below your heart. If you’re pregnant, avoid constricting your abdomen. Individuals working with sciatica should keep the spine elongated. Also, if you’ve had a recent spine injury/surgery well . . . you’re probably talking to your doctor right? Be careful with forward folds.
Forward folds! Just in time to love and respect your body at the beach!
I don’t know who the artist of this is – if you do, let me know so I can A) give them credit and B) ask them to be my new best friend.
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