Forward bends are my favorite. I am lucky to be flexible in this area. Coming into these poses have been fairly easy for me. Following months of lack of physical exercises, however, I felt the unusual stiffness in my hamstrings as I restarted my yoga practice. I had to remind myself to take it easy and always be conscious about my alignment.Today, let’s talk about seated forward bend. I see a lot of fellow practitioners who come to this pose hastily and vigorously, albeit very easily (I work with a lot of very flexible young people!). I inwardly cringe when I see this as I prefer to ease into this pose. As I listen to my favorite online instructor Esther, I am always reminded to be mindful about the beginning position preparatory to my seated forward bend: Dandasana (another pose I do not take for granted, learned from clear instructions from Alan Finger in one of his Yoga Zone videos for beginners). Further, in bending forward, one is reminded to flow with the breath: on inhalation, lengthen your spine, gently pressing your sitting bones on the floor (or block if you cannot sit with a straight back in dandasana) and backward. On exhalation you gently begin to fold forward, hinging from the hips, not bending in the back. Bending in the back is a common mistake I see as students hasten to touch their foreheads on the knees. Doing this pose, I learned to caution myself against the urge to immediately touch my head on the knees. This is not about the range. It never is. What is more important is in keeping length in the pubic bone till the breastbone, moving first your belly, then your ribcage and finally your forehead towards the legs. It does not matter that you do not reach your forehead on your legs. Relish in the journey, whether you reach there or not does not matter. As Esther would say it (I’m paraphrasing), if you’re able to touch your forehead, perfect, if not, also perfect.
I practice this pose with gentle mindfulness. Finally, through time, I am able to almost touch my ribcage/chest on my legs (and yes, my forehead easily touches my knees), but always after several inhalations and exhalations, slowly slowly, bending forward, always keeping my legs active and feet flexed. I love seated forward bend. It teaches me to be patient and not to rush through life.
Here are step by step instructions by Esther Ekhart, my favorite teacher:
- From dandasana, sitting with your legs outstretched in front of you and your feet flexed. If you cannot sit with a straight back it means you have to sit on a block or folded blanket.
- On an inhalation lengthen your spine, gently pressing your sitting bones into the floor (or block) and backward. Slightly arch your lower back forward towards your belly. Your hands are next to the hips on the floor, press into your hands to help elongate your spine .
- Pull up the thighs and then let the top of the thighs descend to the floor.
- Keeping the front of the body open and long, on an exhalation you gently begin to fold forward hinging from the hips, not bending in the back.
- Keep length from the pubic bone till the breastbone, moving first your belly, than your ribcage, chest, than your forehead towards the legs.
- Let your arms slide down along the floor, if you can, hold the feet, wrapping your 1st two fingers and thumbs around the big toes. If you can bend your elbows, keep them lifting away from the floor out to the sides and keep your shoulders away from the ears. If you can’t hold your feet, loop a strap around the soles of the feet holding the strap with both hands, keep arms straight.
- To go deeper into this pose, with every inbreath you remind yourself of the length along the front of the torso, lifting your head slightly, on an outbreath you see if you can fold deeper into the pose, still with a long spine hinging from the hips. Keeping your neck in line with your spine. If you hold a strap, just walk your hands slowly in as you go deeper, straight arms.
- Stretches the spine, hamstrings, shoulders
- Calms the mind, prepares you for meditation
- Relieves mild depression
- Stimulates internal organs like ovaries and uterus, liver and kidneys
- Good for digestion
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure, Insomnia and sinusitis