Standing forward bends unshackle the body by lengthening opening and releasing the spine whilst simultaneously awakening the legs. These postures utilize gravity to unstack and loosen the spinal vertebrae, stimulating the nerves, improving circulation and nourishing the spinal cord. The compression, forward bends initiate in the middle of the body helps to massage the abdominal organs, toning and rejuvenating the kidneys, liver and spleen.
Standing forward bends increase the flow of energy into the upper body, head and brain. This increased blood flow acts to flush out, unblock and clear the head space. This leads to increased vitality, enhanced powers of concentration and clarity of perception.
Standing forward bends have a quieting and restorative effect on the mind, allowing us to connect more deeply with the inner feeling of the body. They teach us to yield, surrender and let go of what we don’t need and enter a space of humble simplicity. When we take a bow we take a journey within ourselves to a place where we learn to let go of the external and listen more inwardly.
The Breath Connection
The inhalation gives us the opportunity to re-initiate our dog tilt, lengthen the abdomen and send a wave of breath out along the spine to the top of the head. This effect can be enhanced by bending the knees to soften the hamstring edge.
As we settle into the bow, the combination of physical compression in the middle of the body and the cooling tranquilising effect on the nervous system naturally encourages the exhalation to lengthen into emptiness. The longer exhale allows us more time to ride the breath into the pose, slowly lengthening the hamstrings and cascading the spine over the lower body.
• Re-establishing dog tilt on each inhale encourages the fold to take place from the hips rather than the spine
• The legs are lengthened by grounding the feet and lifting the sitting bones rather than pressing back through the knees
• Keep sliding the shoulders down the back and away from the ears so that the neck can remain long and the facial muscles relaxed. This will also allow a free flow of energy from the tailbone to the brain.
• Used at the beginning of a practice, standing forward bends encourage us to internalise, let go of our day, drop what is unnecessary, clear the head and enter the flow with greater feeling and humility
• Entered following Surya Namaskar the forward bend will gently counter the outgoing heat generating effects of that sequence – by cooling the brain and nervous system.
• Used between or following a sequence of standing poses the standing forward bend helps to rejuvenate the legs, soften the lower back and balance the effects of the standing poses with the surrender of a forward fold
• Used in the form of downward facing dog the forward fold can act as a neutraliser to any pose. Effectively wiping the spinal slate clear.
• The forward bend can also be used as a strong counter posture for backbends, although you may like to practice baby pose or down dog preceding it.
The Hamstring Edge
These three muscles which originate from the buttocks and extend down the back of the thighs to attach just below the knee are one of the strongest muscle groups in the human body. It’s perhaps for this reason that for most of us they also provide some of the strongest edges in our practice. Patient persistence is required to gradually undo the tension. Remember that relaxed muscles stretch best so approach them in such a way that they do not resist you coming, use the bend of the knees to relax them on the inhale and lengthen into the legs as you breathe out. However stubborn they feel don’t lose hope, they will loosen and on the way they will teach you so much about the art of letting go. The key is to first find a place within the bow where you can relax on the comfortable side of the edge and get into the flow of your breath. Then gradually apply the breath to the stretch with gentle effort and relaxed but firm conviction