An accessible standing forward bend
Standing forward bend
Last week I shared with you a 5 minute mindful movement practice to help mobilise the neck and shoulders. This week we will explore a gentle approach to folding forwards from standing which you may like to explore further for yourselves.
Our intention for a standing forward bend is to stretch the back of our body, however this can often feel a little tricky due to tension in our hamstrings, lower back and hips in particular. Forward bends can feel limiting in terms of how deeply we’re able to fold and often the attempt at trying to touch our toes can be accompanied with over-straining. For some, folding forwards and down from standing can feel like a long way to travel!
For the majority of people being able to touch our toes is out of the question and so approaching our forward fold in a more gentle manner may help to encourage the stiffness in our hamstrings, without compromising the lower back and pelvic stability. Ultimately if you can touch your toes but your hamstrings are yelling out and your lower back feels vulnerable what is the point? At the heart of our practice is self-care. As soon as we start to move away from this intention, we are no longer practising yoga, nor are we taking care of ourselves fully.
As always the sequences that I am presenting to you are designed to be taken slowly and mindfully with the breath. Let the breath support your movement, the inhalations will favour more of an opening, or an opportunity to lengthen in the body, whilst the exhalations provide you with support to relax into something a little further. When it comes to forward folds we tend to fold mostly on an exhalation, because naturally the body is folding in on itself, releasing downwards towards the ground and so our bodies are able to move more freely with the breath in this way. As we move away from the ground towards a more upright position and we lengthen in our bodies, our lungs fill with air and we return to our starting position. Forward folds can help to soothe and calm the body and the mind as we reduce the build up of residual tension that has accumulated over time.
This isn’t the way for all forms of yoga, or movement based practices, but this is the approach I am suggesting because it is one that I feel closely aligned with.
As you practice bring awareness to the sensations of your feet, legs, pelvis, abdomen, spine, shoulders and neck, notice how the entire back of your body feels when you fold forwards and when you come back. Some places may be more obvious than others. Notice how you feel before you begin, during each stretch and in between each fold, and upon completion. Pay close attention to the way the breath supports and envelopes the movement.
Take the practice with me a few times and then take it on your own in silence. It may be nice to add this onto the neck and shoulder mobilising practice or as a stand alone sequence to take when you feel stiffness in your hamstrings, around your hips and across your back.
An accessible standing forward bend, step by step:
- Standing with your feet hip distance apart, soften your knees and let your hands rest lightly by your sides.
- Notice how you feel physically and emotionally without any judgement.
- Get grounded and spread your toes wide, settling your awareness to the soles of your feet as you connect more evenly towards the earth.
- Find length in your body from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head without lifting your chin.
- Bring your awareness to your breath in and out through your nostrils, and over time lengthen your exhalations and deepen your inhalations.
- When you breath feels steady and long, as you breathe in notice how your collarbones lift away from your belly. As you breathe out activate your lower abdomen by drawing in your belly button lightly towards your spine. Notice the support this offers you for your lower back and pelvis.
- With your hands resting onto your hips, inhale to lift your collarbones up once again, then exhale to start moving your hands slowly down your legs towards your knees as you fold forwards. Your knees can be as released as they need to be for you to move comfortably forwards and down.
- Let your inhalation bring your back to your starting point as you raise your upper torso back up.
- Start to slide your hands down your legs again with your next exhalation, waiting for your inhalation to bring you back up.
- Continue in this way for 6-8 more rounds exploring the forward fold with every long exhalation within a range that is useful for you.
- Come back to standing, with your eyes closed settle your arms lightly by your sides.
- Notice any sensations you may be experiencing throughout your whole body, in particular around your hamstrings, hips and lower spine.
- Sigh the breath out with a long, soothing exhalation. Bring yourself back to the flow of your natural breath and continue to follow your breath for a few more moments.
- Upon completion, pause and notice how you feel physically and emotionally.
I hope you enjoy the practice and time that you provide yourselves with to explore the more subtle experiences you may encounter. If you would like to join me for further explorations of accessible movement supported by the breath, you can do so by joining me in my online classes.
Thank you once again,
“give time to the sequence…until it becomes easy, fluid…
so the whole body
is fully aware”
Sandra Sabatini on forward bends; Yoga through the Seasons.