Pose of the Month: Standing Forward Bend

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Just like Downward Facing Dog, Standing Forward Bend should be a staple pose in your yoga routine.  Even if you have never stepped into a yoga studio or attempted a DVD, chances are you have folded over into simple standing forward bend.

 How to: Standing Forward Bend

As basic as you may think this pose is, it is very important to learn proper technique, in order to keep your back safe, and fully open your hamstrings.

Stand with your feet shoulders width apart and take time to make sure they are parallel.  Plug your feet equally into the floor, with your weight slightly forward, but not so far that you grip your toes.  Bend your knees a little and fold over at your hips. Never fold from your waist.  Connect your chest and belly to your thighs, while the knees are still bent. Constantly check that your knees, when bent, track over your toes. It is key for the safety and integrity of the knee joint to have the knees positioned this way at all times.  Keep your chest and belly connected to your thighs and slowly start to straighten your knees, as if you are lifting your hips up to the sky.  Once you feel like your chest is separating from your legs, you've gone a little too far.

If you feel stable enough, grab your elbows and hang.  Start this for one minute holds and work up to 10 minutes.  Continue to check that your feet line up with each other and that they stay parallel.  Although it will be tempting to close your eyes and relax here, DON'T. You will lose your balance.  Don't be afraid to sway back and forth and bend and straighten the knees, anything to negotiate further into the stubborn hamstrings.  I always encourage my students to drape a 12-pound sandbag over their forearms while holding the pose.  This method will get you to the next level faster.  Another variation is to do this same pose with your back leaning up against the wall.  Then you will really feel the hamstrings deep.

Benefits of Standing Forward Bend

When done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits of Standing Forward Ben include:

  • Calm the brain
  • Relieve stress
  • Great for mild depression
  • Stretch the hamstrings, calves, and hips
  • Strengthen the thighs and knees
  • Improve digestion
  • Reduce anxiety

For the lay person or Yogi, Standing Forward Bend clearly opens the hamstrings.  It is very important to keep the hamstrings open to reduce strain and tightness in the back.  Long hours, hard work, long drives and poor sleep are only a few things that contribute to tight backs.  Since the hamstring attaches on the lowest part of the pelvis, when the legs are rigid they easily pull down on the pelvis putting unnecessary stress on the back.  If you don't address this, a chain reaction will happen over time where tight hamstrings lead to a strained back which leads to unstable hips and knee problems.

You won't see improvements over night, but in time your legs will free up and you will see a huge difference in how your body feels--so stay committed.  It is a great pose to focus on your breath and practice visualization, actually see your hamstrings open up.

For the athlete, this pose is important for assessing postural needs and imbalances, as well as the above.  It is important for athletes to constantly evaluate their bodies.  Sports figures from every game can benefit from hamstring improvement.  If an athlete has flexible legs their speed will improve.  I stress that the formula for power is strength plus flexibility.  Speed and better agility are always concerns for athletes.  Having less strain on your back reduces reduce injury and increases time of play.

Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely:

  • If you recently had back surgery (have a trained teacher near)
  • You should also have your teacher near if you have recently had knee surgery or hamstring surgery

Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body!