Five Ways To Deepen Forward Folds In Yoga
Why do we want to Forward Fold? Well for one, tight legs can create problems for the low back. But also, Forward Bends encourage us to turn our awareness inwards, something that goes a long way towards bringing us to balance in a world that’s constantly pulling us in a million different directions.
Forward Folds in yoga help us increase our circulation, feel more calm and grounded, ease low back strain and bring a sense of mental ease. BKS Iyengar, one of the grandfathers of the modern yoga movement, says that if we can hold a Standing Forward Fold for five minutes it will banish depression!
Here are five ways to deepen your Forward Folds so you can reap their excellent benefits.
1. Make It Safe For Your Low Back
The first phase of any seated Forward Fold is to be able to sit upright without letting your low back round. If, when you sit on the ground with your leg(s) outstretched, your low back rounds posteriorly (back) and down towards the floor, it’s not safe to fold forward.
If this is the case then there is some deep work you need to be doing; engage the muscles in the core of your pelvis to tilt your sitting bones back and your sacrum and low back in and up. This flexibility goes hand in hand with loosening your hamstrings, so practice poses like Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supda Padangusthasana) which support your low back while increasing your mobility.
2. Include Your Head in The Pose
Though a Forward Fold is felt most in the legs and low back, the pose isn’t complete if the upper body is neglected. Keep your head in line with your spine and lengthen out through your crown. Make sure not to let your head come forward to create the illusion that you’re getting deeper in the posture.
3. Remember Your Arms
Since yoga is a holistic practice, the arms should be included in all Forward Folds. In a seated Forward Fold keep your elbows lifted to approximately the same height as your shoulders, and widen them away from each other as you bend your arms and go deeper in the pose. Always keep your shoulder blades on your back rather than letting your chest collapse and your shoulders round forward.
4. Press Your Thighs Down While You Lift Your Belly Up
Prana (vital energy) flows both up and down in the body. Forward Folds can be a great way to keep these two types of prana both separate and harmonious. To create this balance, press your thighs back (down if you’re sitting on the floor).
Be cautious not to hyperextend your knees, but to move your femur bones back instead; this creates an open channel for the downward flowing, calming energy. At the same time lift your low belly in and up. Doing so will better align the upward flowing, energizing prana.
5. Adjust Your Feet
Classically, both standing and seated Forward Fold are done with the feet together. However, the poses can be more accessible to those with tight legs and low backs by widening the feet. Don’t be afraid to explore a different leg width to give you freedom in these poses. Go no wider than hip width, and always keep your feet and legs parallel.