Practicing forward bends yoga can be a tricky if the hamstrings, hips or lower back are tight and stiff from sitting all day at your desk. When practiced with mindfulness and gentleness, forward bends can be grounding for the mind and emotions as you surrender the heart and head forward. However if forward bends are approached with too much ego and you try to move beyond the body's abiltiy to bend forward, the practice can leave you feeling agitated and uncomfortable.
This week we will practice keeping the lumbar spine as neutral as possible when coming forward. In order to keep this neutrality, begin by lifting the navel away from the pubic bone to lengthen the "zipper" line (where your pants zipper would be) by dropping the pubic bone down and slightly arching the lower back before you come forward. What if you cannot come forward without rounding your back, then keep working on lengthening this zipper line without coming forward to keep the alignment of the spine neutral and comfortable. The forward bend must come from the length in the hamstrings and the flexibility of the hips, not by sacrificing the safety of the lower back.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Lie on the back with the legs straight.
Variation I: Draw your right knee into your chest and lengthen the left leg onto the floor. Wrap a strap around the ball of your right foot and extend the leg into the air. Reach the hands up the strap until the elbows are straight but the shoulders are still grounded.
Variation II: Hold the strap in the right hand and place a block on the outside of the right hip. Externally rotate your leg and as you exhale, lower the leg directly out to the side so that the outer thigh rests on the block. Extend the foot into the strap and reach the left arm out to the side keeping the left hip on the floor. To release, use the inner thigh to draw the leg up to center.
Variation III: Hold the strap in the left hand and slowly bring the leg across the body as you twist the lower body, keeping the shoulders on the floor and the right arm out to the side. To release, drop the right hip into the floor and allow the leg to follow. Hold each variation for 10-20 breaths.
Therapeutics: Stretches the hamstrings, calves, inner thigh, outer hip and buttock; also releases tension in the lower back.
Thread the Needle
Lie on the back with the knees bent, feet on the floor Cross your left foot over the right knee and flex the ankle.
Variation I: Gently press the upper inner left thigh away from your belly. Hold for 10 breaths, then release and change sides.
Variation II: Draw the legs towards the chest and clasp the hands behind the right thigh. Hold 10 breaths then release and change sides.
Variation III: Cross legs so that knees are stacked and bent. Exhale as you draw thighs towards chest, holding with hands on thighs or shins. Relax lower back and hold for 10 breaths.
Therapeutics: Opens the outer hips and provides traction to the lower back.
Lunge to Parsvotannasana (Intense Stretch of the West Side of Body)
Begin on all fours and bring left foot between hands. Inhale sweep arms forward and up overhead pressing pelvis forward. Exhale and touch floor on either side of foot as you lift left knee off floor and straighten both legs. You may also use blocks under the hands if it is difficult to reach the floor.
Repeat to both sides 5 times with the breath.
Therapeutics: Stretches hip flexors and strengthens legs
Sukhasana with Chair
Sit on edge of folded blanket in front of a chair with legs crossed. Inhale to lengthen the spine and place a bolster vertically in lap. Lean forward on to the bolster which is supported by the chair. Turn head to one side and rest arms in chair seat.
Therapeutics: Gently stretches hips and back, helps to release tension in the back while surrendering the mind.
Baddha Konasana with Chair
Sit on edge of folded blanket in front of a chair with soles of feet together and knees apart, support knees if needed. Inhale to lengthen the spine and place a bolster vertically in lap. Lean forward on to the bolster which is supported by the chair. Turn head to one side and rest arms in chair seat.
Therapeutics: Gently stretches groins and hips; helps to release tension in the back while surrendering the mind.
Upavistha Konasana with Chair
Sit on edge of folded blanket in front of a chair with legs straddling the chair. Inhale to lengthen the spine and place a bolster vertically in front of torso. Lean forward on to the bolster which is supported by the chair. Turn head to one side and rest arms in chair seat.
Therapeutics: Gently stretches inner thighs and groins, helps to release tension in the back while surrendering the mind.
Lie on back with knees bent and feet on floor. Shift hips to the left a few inches from center. Draw the knees into the chest and release legs to the bolster on the right. You may use right hand to hold down outside of left knee. Reach left arm back to floor and turn head to the center or to the right.
Hold for 1-3 minutes, then bend knees and draw them up to center, change sides.
Therapeutics: Broadens back of pelvis, stretches outside of legs, gently compresses the abdominal organs
Lie on back with legs in the seat of a chair. Lift pelvis off floor and place block or a folded blanket under pelvis. Place arms away from sides and palms up. Rest 15 minutes.
Therapeutics: Induces relaxation response, reduces swelling of feet and legs, relaxes lower back
Contraindications: High Blood Pressure
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.