How to improve your yoga - forward bends that feel better in your body
Whether you're a beginner to yoga or have more experience, finding variations in your practice is important for so many reasons!
Exploring different pose options can help you:
- know your own body better
- find a more comfortable version of a pose
- figure out an option that best suits what your body needs
- advance your yoga practice
We'll look at uttanasana, one of the standing forward bends as an example, but first, the important context: let’s consider forward bends and how they occur in a typical yoga class.
Forward bends are prolific in the yoga practice
So much of the sequencing in modern day classes has us bending forward in some capacity much of the time, especially if you attend any type of ‘flowing’ yoga class such as Vinyasa Flow or Astanga.
Because the pace of these classes is fairly quick, the sheer number of postures covered in any given class is pretty high. So there is a very good chance forward bending will come up a lot!
For example - during sun salutations - when we move up and down from tadasana; in seated forward bends such as paschimottanasana and janu sirsana; in ardha hanumanasana (half splits); even some positions on our backs put us into a forward bend position - eg supta padangusthasana (extended hand to foot/belt) and plow pose!
So, since we spend a lot of time in these shapes, it’s quite a good idea to understand what is happening in the body and also what your individual body most needs.
For simplicities sake in this blog post we’ll just breakdown uttanasana, as this is probably the most common forward bend.
Firstly I want to highlight that there are many ways to approach forward bends, and some will be better suited to your body and others, not so much.
Just don’t ever let yourself think the shape of your body in a posture has to be a picture perfect way or that it can only be the commonly portrayed image of it!
We are all different and we should embrace our differences instead of thinking it’s something we need to fix or correct. There is beauty and joyful feeling in many different shapes.
Option one - a bent knee practice
A bent knee practice can help you find more mobility in the hips, whilst also lengthening your spine and still giving a bit of a stretch to your legs.
You should bend your knees and think of lengthening your torso down over your thighs, even exploring some contact of the abdomen with your legs.
Gradually, gradually as you stay here (I’d suggest 10-20 breaths to really feel it) you might find that you can move the sit bones ever so slightly higher behind you, and allow the torso to soften ever so slightly further forward in opposition to that. And when I say ever so slightly, I mean it.
We are talking micro-movements! You have to be patient to experience the progress through these micro-movements. The legs might straighten a little, but remember this is not the goal, you are thinking of hinging at the hips and lengthening the spine over the legs.
As always, ensure your weight is more in the balls of the feet than the heels, without going so far that the toes have to grip strongly to hold you in place.
It can also be really nice to do this pose with your butt against a wall and your heels about 20cm away from it. Then you can lean back against the wall, and use the sensation of the wall to help you feel the progression of your forward bend - eg sit bones lifting ever so slightly higher on the wall.
Option two: supporting yourself with props of some description
It might be blocks under each hand, or a belt underneath the feet. Or if you have no props available then hands on shins will do.