Pose of the Month: Standing Forward Bend
By Gwen Lawrence
While this seems to be a very easy straightforward pose, there are several very specific ways to set yourself up in it. This pose takes time time time to see results, but they will come and you will prevail!!!!
How to: Standing Forward Bend
Start with your feet hips width apart. This alone is tricky, be honest with yourself while figuring out your hips width. The true distance is where your leg bone (femur) comes out of the hip socket, NOT where the outside of your fleshy hip is. Next, make sure your feet are parallel… they should resemble and 11. Everybody, no matter how advanced you are will start with their knees bent and chest resting on their thighs. You will keep this connection throughout the whole hold of the pose, once you disconnect the chest from the thighs you risk rounding and over stretching the back. When the knees are bent make sure your knees track directly over your toes for perfect alignment of the legs. Slowly, start to straighten your legs by lifting your hips straight up to the sky. Stop when you feel good resistance. Go far enough that you feel a deep stretch and not so far that you cannot breathe.
Keep your eyes open for best stability. You can keep your hands on the floor at first for the best balance or try to grab opposite elbow with opposite hand to get a nice deep hanging feeling. It is very important when you are relaxing in the pose that your weight is not far back in the heels but right in the middle of your foot. If all your weight is back it is like slamming the breaks on the optimum opening of the hamstrings. Stay here and breathe. Don’t be afraid to sway from left to right, or to bend and straighten the legs as you negotiate your way deeper and deeper in the hamstrings.
An amazing alternate way to do this pose that I teach my athletes is to approach it the same way however, face a wall, once in forward bend lean your back up against the wall. Here you will get a maximum opening while not being concerned with balance, therefore you can release fully. It’s hard but awesome!
Benefits of standing forward bend
The role of standing forward bend is vast. Done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits include:
• Facilitates forward flexion in the hips and spine
• Opens the hamstrings
• Stimulates kidneys and adrenal glands
• Increases circulation to the brain
• Elongates side body to aid respiration
• Mild traction of the neck
For the lay person or Yogi standing forward bend clearly opens the hamstrings. In our society of desk work and commuting the sitting posture tightens the hamstrings and poor posture weakens the spine. Opening the hammies helps give more mobility to the pelvis so the back does not over stretch. Being that it is a mild inversion too it helps people increase circulation to the brain to reduce headaches, eye strain and stress.
For the athlete, the opening of the hamstrings is a crucial part of their regiment. One main reason being when the hamstrings and hips are more supple and elongated there is less strain stress and energy transfer to the vulnerable knee joint, lessening the incident of knee damage. When an athlete focus’ on opening the hamstrings they are working to increase their stride and range of motion which will directly relate to their speed and agility on the playing field. Always remember if you are focusing on the back of the leg not to neglect the front of the leg, the quadriceps muscles.
Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly trained yoga teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely:
• Recent abdominal surgery
• High blood pressure
• Sinus difficulties
• Care should be taken with recent neck or back surgeries or injuries
Have fun exploring the pose and learning about your body.