Chillax with These Yummy Supported Yoga Forward Bends

Yoga’s seated forward bends are some of the most common and iconic poses. You can practice forward bends while standing, sitting, or even lying down. 

Seated forward bends promote the lengthening and relaxing the muscles of the back, hips, and hamstrings. Relaxed muscles in the hips and hamstrings help you maintain your spine’s natural “S” curves—essential for keeping intervertebral discs healthy. When your hamstrings are tight, your pelvis will tilt back, which flattens your lumbar spine. This is a recipe for lumbar disc problems down the road. Practicing seated forward bends with a yoga bolster can help promote a healthy spine and calm mind.

Seated forward bend or Paschimottanasana with a bolster for support.Maintaining continuity between the pelvis and spine while we bend forward is important. As a general rule of thumb, the pelvis and spine should move together to foster continuity, protect the discs, and keep the sacroiliac joint in its most stable position.

In seated forward bends, sitting on a yoga blanket to encourage forward movement in the pelvis and bending your knees slightly can help keep your pelvis and spine moving together. 

Adding a yoga blanket to support the pelvis.However, using a yoga bolster and sitting on a blanket can help us maintain spinal integrity while we bend forward.

Using a yoga bolster can also promote another of the benefits of forward bends: calming the mind. When your body is supported with a bolster, you can let go of struggle and allow your body to soften. This helps to calm your mind.

1. Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottanasana) with a Pranayama Bolster or Rolled Blanket  

Seated Forward bend with blanket and small bolster for support.

Pranayama pillows are not just for pranayama. They are also the perfect size to support your knees in seated forward bends.

Their benefits are twofold: First, bending your knees and resting them on a pranayama pillow makes it easier to bend from the pelvis and protect your spine.

Second, people often feel an intense stretch in the ligaments and tendons behind their knees when they’re forward bending with their knees straight. Ligaments and tendons are not meant to be stretched excessively because they do not have the “memory”—the ability to resume their original length—that muscles do. (This is why once you’ve sprained your ankle, it’s never as stable as it was before.) Placing a pranayama pillow (or a rolled-up blanket) under your knees takes the stretch out of the ligaments and tendons and focuses it into the hamstrings instead.

Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottanasana) with a Pranayama Pillow or Rolled Blanket  

  1. Sit in Staff Pose (Dandasana) with your legs outstretched and parallel on a yoga mat.
  2. Fold a yoga blanket so that it’s about three inches thick. Sit on the blanket so your pelvis is on the edge and your legs are on the floor. If you feel your pelvis tilting back and your lumbar vertebrae poking out in the back, fold another blanket and place it under your pelvis.
  3. Place a pranayama bolster or rolled-up blanket (about 4 to 6 inches in diameter) under your knees.
  4. To move into the forward bend, tip your pelvic rim forward and lengthen your front body. In other words, lead the forward bend with your pelvis. Keep your spine long as you come forward. It’s okay to flex your spine once your pelvis is tipped forward gently.
  5. Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths, allowing your torso to oscillate as you breathe. Check your arms and shoulders. Are you tensing there? How about your facial muscles and throat? Relax where you can. On an inhalation, come up out of the forward bend.

2. Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana) with a Slanted Bolster   

Adding props to support a seated forward bend, Upavistha Konasana

The bolster is supported by a chair, not blocks; in this variation

Even though forward bends are said to be relaxing, they’re not so relaxing when your body is struggling against gravity and hanging out in space. Placing a slanted yoga bolster under your torso lets you let go of the struggle and settle into gravity.

  1. Sit on a yoga mat in Upavistha Konasana.
  2. Place a yoga block at medium height a few feet in front of you, with the wide side facing you.
  3. Place a yoga bolster on the mat in front of you so that the far end rests on the block and the end closest to you is a few inches away from your hips. The bolster should be slanted upward, away from your body.
  4. On an exhalation, relax forward onto the bolster. Depending on the flexibility of your hamstrings, you may be able to rest your entire torso on the bolster, including your forehead. If your hamstrings are on the tighter side, clasp opposite elbows and rest your forearms on the bolster. Either way, relax your head and neck and let your weight settle onto the bolster as much as possible. You can place an extra thickly folded blanket or a yoga block under your forehead if you like.
  5. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths here. Or, if you’re very comfortable and want to make this a restorative yoga experience, relax here for several minutes,
  6. On an inhalation, lift your torso off the bolster. Take a few easy breaths before shifting out of the pose.

yoga with props

Reprinted with permission from Charlotte Bell/Hugger Mugger Yoga Products.
Article main image courtesy of Charlotte Bell/Hugger Mugger Yoga Products.
Charlotte Bell writer

Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.

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