Yoga Pose Primer: Calm and Ground with Forward Folds
If we mindfully approach forward folds in yoga, we can create experiences of these asanas as calming, grounding, and enjoyable. It can allow us to fold further and deeper. That’s not to do so for the sake of “touching our toes,” but for gaining healthy flexibility, accessing body areas that we might not otherwise, and learning more about our bodies. With that comes learning more about ourselves. Such mindfulness includes beginning these folds in ways that will allow for optimal spinal lengthening and release, as well as acting to remain anchored in one’s base (in the feet or in one’s seat).
Tips for Uttanasana (Forward Fold)
To enter Uttanasana, Standing Forward Fold, focus on creating a very specific fold at the hip. I prefer the name of Standing Forward Fold (versus “Bend”) because it is ideally an even and sequential fold; like folding a towel or shirt, the fold of the torso of the legs begins at one point (the hip crease in this posture) and the two parts come together in a very specific way. That is, the lower belly moves toward the upper thighs first. A helpful way to visualize this is focusing the deepening at the belly button, rather than at the nose. That latter area will follow as your muscles release into these folds, on their own timing.
Also key into where you hold weight. Optimal stability and safe stretching in Uttanasana, (for instance, stretching at the bellies of the involved muscles rather than at their joints) comes from balancing weight mostly on the balls and arches of the feet, rather than over the heels. On the other hand, keep your toes and heels grounded as well.
A helpful image to help achieve that full, balanced grounding is to imagine four corners of the feet planted into your supporting surface—inside and outside, at the front and back of each foot. Just like with a car, it won’t be a smooth ride without a point of contact evenly through all four sides. Feeling supported on the earth through such grounding can be calming, yet also energizing and empowering. With this support of the ground beneath you, anything can be possible! Go here for another perspective on the posture, as well as modifications for different body types and flexibility levels.
Seated Forward Folds
In Paschimottanasana, or West/Back Stretching Posture, we execute Standing Forward Fold while seated. It is called West/Back Stretching Posture because, literally, the muscles of the entire back side of the body stretch here. Those include the muscles from the base of the skull, through the back, through the buttocks muscles (the glutes), through the hamstrings and calves, to the heels. In order to establish anchoring in the backsides of your legs, as well as create full length through your spine, try entering the pose from Dandasana.
Just as with Uttanasana, two important things to focus on here are the even and sequential folding of the torso over the thighs (the belly button traveling towards the thighs before the nose to the knees) and establishing as wide a base of support as possible. In the latter point, spread your sitting bones to release excess tension there. Some practitioners also find it helpful to manually (with your hands) spread the flesh away from your sitting bones. This will help you to feel more grounded on your seat. At the same time, extend your heels away from your buttocks. Besides creating a better anchor for your seat in the posture, doing so will safely focus the stretch into the bellies of your hamstrings.
Additionally flex your feet (draw your toes back to your face, until they are over your heels). Doing so will also help to engage the muscles in the fronts of your of legs, so that they can anchor you in your seat. Your hamstring and calf muscles can then be free to stretch. Lengthen the back of you neck and so that your neck follows the trajectory of your spine. That will keep your cervical (neck) vertebrae aligned with the rest of the spine. That’s important for setting up an even, integrated stretch throughout your entire spine.
The Goal vs Process of Forward Folding
If you can stay with all of these aspects mindfully, you can set yourself up for forward-folding success. That’s not to reach the “product” of touching your toes, but for enjoying the “process” of coming to what you can realistically achieve at this time, and what you can learn about yourself along the way!
When things feel out of control in life, often just that can pull us through the most difficult challenges, stepping into them with the best foot forward, with wisdom and discernment rather than unrefined effort. We’ll then more likely be able to take each moment as it comes with presence and grace. Just one more way that we can bring yoga asana off the mat!
Feeling Stressed? Let Warrior Pose Unleash Your Inner Strength – Another article from YogaUOnline and writer, Kathryn Boland.
Study with Judith Hanson Lasater and YogaUOnline Courses – Philosophy of Sequencing: Why Order Matters
Kathryn Boland is a RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans – all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!