THE BACK BODY
The final axial plane in our spinal sequences is the humble, yet challenging, forward bends. Forward bends stretch the entire back body – starting at the soles of the feet, traveling up the achilles tendon, the calves, hamstrings, glutes, outer hips, inner groins, lower back and upper back. We often presume limitations in our forward bend come from tightness in the hamstrings, but when there is tension in any of these areas in the back body, it can hinder your ability to release forward. Forward bends take a lot of patience, time and kindness. The large muscle group running the length of the back of the thighs, including the hamstrings, like plenty of gentle encouragement and warming up before they release.
FORWARD BENDS AND THE PELVIS
In its essence, a forward fold is the rotation of the head of the two thigh bone in the socket of the hip – which makes up the two hip joint. To help initiate the movement from the hip joint in your forward bends, try a few standing and seated asana with your hands on your hips, and feel into the extent of movement you can get into the anterior/forward tilt of the pelvis as you fold.
BENEFITS OF FORWARD BENDS
Our natural position of protection and self soothing is fetal position. In fetal position you’ll notice all the joints are flexed – the feet, knees, hips, back and arms. Forward bends flex the feet, hips and back, and are very calming and relaxing – easing anxiety, stress, tension and depression – helping us to move from the sympathetic nervous system of flight, flight and freeze, to the parasympathetic nervous system of rest and restore.
EXPLORING FORWARD BENDS IN YOUR PRACTICE
Spend some time in your warm ups paying particular attention to areas of tension in the back body. During your Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutations take a few breaths in Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog, and follow the back body from the base of your feet to the tip of your crown – including the outer hips and inner groins. Supta Padangusthasana/Reclined Hand to Big Toe is a good starting point for gradually opening up the backs of the legs and the surrounding muscles. Print out the above sequence to release the whole back body. As with inversions there is lots of hidden forward bends. The ‘peak pose’ of the sequence is an arm balance which requires a deep forward bend. Click on this link to get a full list of forward bends.
Ruth Delahunty Yogaru