Bowing into Forward Bends
During the first few classes, yoga practitioners love the elongating stretch they feel through the spine, legs and pelvis, but also notice the calming sensation they benefit from. When you bow into a forward bend, you are slowly molding your body, mind, and emotions to go towards a greater sense of peace.
Most forward bends do not look as challenging as backbends and inversion poses, but don’t let the appearance deceive you. If you have been used to sitting on comfortable furniture, then your hips, hamstrings and lower back will take some practice before reaching the perfect alignment in forward bends. Don’t give up on them though, because these postures give depth to your yoga practice through the relaxing, comfortable experience you will achieve in time.
Why Should You Bend Forward?
As soon as you started practicing forward bends, you surely noticed one if their most important benefits – they create length in the spine that relieves it from the pressure of the working hours you spent sitting or standing. Sure, your hamstrings may be tight and the poses are slightly uncomfortable at first, but you become calmer and more introspective as you bow a little further with every following session.
Besides those initial benefits you feel, there is a lot more you can get from forward bends:
- Calmer mind = better sleep. If you are dealing with insomnia or feeling highly strung, a properly-balanced yoga practice that includes forward bends will help you fight it.
- Forward bends calm the brain and invigorate the nervous system. They can successfully relieve the practitioner from headaches, fatigue, stress and mild anxiety.
- Forward bends tone up the abdominal muscles and provide a gentle massage to the digestive organs, as well as the uterus, ovaries, and the kidneys.
- Paschimottanasana, the foundation of all forward bends, increases the appetite, but reduces obesity. That’s not contradiction; it is the result of improved digestion.
- Since forward bends encourage the activity of your core muscles, they will prepare your body for more advanced asanas, such as Mayurasana (the Peacock Pose).
- Forward bending poses balance the energy flow throughout your body. You will stimulate different chakras with this group of asanas. For example, Paschimottanasana will stimulate the manipura chakra; while Halasana and Karnapidasana will help you work on the vishuddha chakra. For more about chakras check out my Chakras 101 article.
- These positions strengthen the legs, especially the knees and thighs, protecting from injury and joint degradation.
When to Practice Caution with Forward Bends
If you are experiencing severe back ache or chronic lower back pain, you should avoid excessive strains in that area. Do not get too deep into the postures; find the right position that will allow you to feel comfortable and as still as possible. With regular practice, this group of asanas will help you surpass the difficulties.
If you feel great discomfort when you first start bending forward, you should remember not to force it. Yoga is not about how great you look in the pose and how deep you can go. It’s all about how you feel, so refrain from forcing your body to do anything it’s not prepared for. Remember: props are always welcomed! They will help you find stability in the pose and feel more relaxed in it.
Forward bends are not recommended for practitioners with sciatica, bulging discs, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
Certain forward bends (such as Balasana [Child’s Pose] and Uttanasana [Standing Forward Bend]), are contraindicated during pregnancy. Pregnant women can include Upavistha Konasana (Wide Seated Forward Bend) and Paschimottanasana, but should never allow their stomach to be compressed against the floor or the legs. Do not try to get into Karnapidasana and Halasana during pregnancy if you haven’t practiced them before.
5 Forward Bends to Start With
1. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Extension) is the most obvious starting point with forward bends. It will calm you down and allow you to get into the perfect meditating state. Using a strap will make it easier for you to bend effortlessly. If you cannot get deep into the pose because of lower back pain, then placing a folded blanket under your buttocks will help you get into proper alignment.
2. Halasana (Plough Pose) stimulates the thyroid gland and reduces all signs of stress and tiredness. This pose can make you feel insecure before you get used to the unusual position, so you may support your legs with a chair if you don’t trust yourself enough. The feeling when you surpass that insecurity is priceless.
3. Karnapidasana (Ear Pressure Pose) can also be challenging, but is not as difficult as it appears to be. If you have mastered Halasana and you don’t feel any discomfort in that pose, then Karnapidasana can be the next step towards your inner self.
4. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) will strengthen your legs, relieve headache, and prepare you for meditation by taming stress and anxiety. If you cannot reach your toes, you can rest your hands on blocks. Make sure you are not locking your knees.
5. Balasana (Child’s Pose) is possibly the favorite forward bend for all yoga practitioners. This pose is so calming that it can easily help you leave your worries away from the mat.
Folding forward means facing inwards
In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there is a special place for Paschimottanasana – the asana that stimulates the prana to rise through the sushumna nadi and “cures all diseases of men.”
There are many reasons why forward bends are an inevitable part of each yoga class, but they should always be properly balanced with backbends, inversions and twisting postures.
Forward folds enable greater introspection, which gives you a peaceful sensation and prepares you for a calm meditation. Remember: you should always be able to breathe deeply and easily in the final position.
Yogasync me! For a crash course in forward bends, try out this express session featuring three standing forward bends and three on the ground: