3 Ways to Improve your Forward Bends
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:
- 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:
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:
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).
- 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:
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).
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:
- 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.
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.