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3 Ways to Improve your Forward Bends

supta final

Ashtanga primary series is full of forward bends and even after regular practice, it seemed to not go much further. The good thing is- when postures don’t come to you that easy you learn a lot about how you can improve…

Here are 3 practices that have really helped me to improve my forward bends:

  1. The Feet Technique– I always remember learning my teaching script which said “dorsiflex your feet” in every seated forward bend. What I really did was dorsiflex my toes, which looks something like this:
toe 1

What not to do- Dorsiflexion of toes

 

Recently, my lovely teacher Martina bought to my attention the correct technique- where the action of dorsiflexion is in the upper soles of the feet and the toes are relaxed, which looks something like this:

 

toe 2

What to do- Dorsiflexion of the upper mound of your feet and the toes are relaxed.

 

It’s amazing how such a slight movement can change how the pose feels completely and makes completely different set of muscles work (i.e.:high awareness of bandhas and heavy engagement of gluteus and hamstrings).

  1. Extend/ Flex and Release the Psoas– Psoas (aka, the seat of the soul) is the only muscle that connects your back to the leg, so it plays a crucial role in every forward bends, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, structural balance and core stabilization. There are 2 aspects to working with the psoas- stretching it (extension and flexion)and releasing it. Stretching it involves adduction of hip flexors so exercises such as these help a great deal:

 

Swing from toes to heels-setting the momentum to come back up

Any version of backbends is excellent for extension of the psoas muscle.

My 2 most difficult poses in primary are: baddhakonasana and Upavishtha konasana. Difficulty in doing these posture signifies tight psoas, tight gluteus and hamstrings.  These pre-warmups were taught by Martina and are also a part of the Moon series (an amazing complimentary to Ashtanga that I highly recommend).

side forward

Wide legged side forward bend (on both the sides)- releases the tightness in psoas and gluteus and eases asanas such as upavistha konasana. Tip- If bending forward on the left side, earth the right hip.

 

forward stretch

Side forward stretch can then be followed by wide-legged forward stretch. Tip- doriflex the feet to keep the legs active and hips firmly grounded.

 

stretch 1

Feet facing towards each other but as far away from your groin as you can and arms stretched in front. Keep working on 10 breaths far from your groin, then 10 breaths in the middle followed by 10 breaths as close to your groin as possible (baddhakonasana version).

While doing each of the movement awareness is on the psoas muscle and lower abdominal musclesare engaged.

Stretching helps to a good extent, but when it comes to hip muscles I think releasing works even better. Releasing before the practice has really helped get rid of ‘that tightness’ I use to feel in my forward bends and it’s also made self-binding possible in supta kurmasana (leg behind head) with relative ease and relaxation.  Here is how to release  psoas and gluteus before starting your practice:

 

release

Release the tightness in your psoas muscle (groin area-google for the exact location) with the help of your fingers and thumb. Press with force, the tightness causes discomfort which will release in a few seconds. It might take some practice +time +awareness to find the psoas muscle in your body.

 

 

ball

Release the tightness in your gluteus by sitting on a tennis ball. Remember to transfer your weight on ball. You can move the ball round to different points in the hip to find that ‘sore/ tight’ place and just stay there till it feels better.

 

  1. Feeling the ‘let go’– Peter Sanson while adjusting me in baddhakonasana said, “what are you holding so much?” I laughed and relaxed and my head touched the floor. It was letting go of trying too hard to do the pose and just actually relaxing.
baddhakonasana

Feeling the let go= body relaxes and hence the stretch gets deeper

I think body stores all the feelings/emotions/ experiences, these are stored in different places (usually back or hips) and I surely store all of mine on my hips and hamstrings. The emotion I often feel in forward bends is that of being stuck and blocked at the hips, like something is holding me from letting go and moving forward.

And I realized that ‘something’ was a tremendous effort on my part to make everything perfect (including poses) and the way I want/ expect it to be.

The time I realized it, my practice shifted where all forward bends were more like a much lesser effot (if not effortless effort).  Like Martina pointed out- you are probably working a lot more and going deeper but with so much more relaxation and ease. Practice goes up and down everyday but with every inhale, I like to take in all the love and happiness and with every exhale I try to let go and surrender to the present and the forward bends feel easier and more natural every time.

 

 

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