JOIN LARA AT KRIPALU THIS SEPTEMBER! LEARN MORE

Anatomy

114 | Forward Folds | with Lara Heimann

In today's episode I cover what to do instead of a seated forward fold. I get this question a lot. When I say I never do it, I'm not saying it’s wrong. If it feels good, I'm not telling you not to do it. But I'm offering you some other ways to get that same feel-good sensation from a forward fold. When people do a seated four fold, and they really love it, what they love is the feeling of that pull. Because the back part of the body, if we're flexing a lot during the day, meaning we're just compressed, that back part of the body wants to do the opposite. So we want to open that up and extend it.

So then what we do is sit on the floor, and we lie on our legs, or attempt to do that, so we’re getting that pull and feeling it in the hamstrings, and maybe in the back. And there's nothing with that, there's just more effective ways of stretching the flexibility around the joints and affecting the pliability of the fascia without sitting more because we do sit a lot. A lot of people, they sink forward, or they'll sink back into their pelvis and tip the pelvis and that will overly stretch the lumbar spine and the lumbar area. Here are a few alternative poses that will give you a better, safer stretch.

Alternative pose 1 The first thing you'll do is stand and get really lengthened up through the spine. So imagine you just came from a seated position and just unfold your hips so that you're lengthening and getting that extension in your hips. Slide your hands down your thighs, bend your knees, slide your hands down the front of your legs on your shins and all the way down, possibly to your ankles. Bend your knees as you do this with the goal of getting your belly on your thighs.

And then when you get to that position, let your head release so almost like you're going to look so you are folding forward and just stay like that. You're not going to add any over pressure or you're not going to add anything else. You're just going to keep a small amount of engagement, at least in the abdominals, and your weight bearing down through the feet. Now if you want to straighten your knees more, that's fine. With one caveat, your belly has to stay connected to the upper thighs. Once you start to pick the belly up away from it, that means you're rounding in your back. So it's way better to keep the knees bent. You can stay in this position for as long as you like, you can stay there for 15 seconds, you can stay there for two or three minutes. At some point your, the blood is going to want to return back out of your head. So you're going to need to rise back up, and do that carefully. But you need to keep some engagement in the abdominals to help that lengthening.

Alternative pose 2 The next stage of this is to do the exact same thing, but facing a wall. You don't want to like bonk your head against the wall so you'll walk a few feet away from the wall, slide your hands down your legs and then start to walk toward the wall until some part of your back ribs connects to the wall. Now this is a big step up because now you've got weight bearing in your feet, and you're getting some additional pressure from the wall into the ribs and it makes you feel like you've just been sandwiched. 

It'll feel like you're really close to the wall because you're leaning into the wall and your head is really close to your shins. Your knees can be bent a lot and your heels need to be on the floor. Stay there and breathe. Really exhale out because it’s a very compressed state. When you're ready to exit, walk away from the wall first and then slowly come up. 

Alternative pose 3 Another great option for not stretching in seated forward fold is just a simple down dog on the wall. So come into a down dog, where your hands and feet are on the floor and your pelvis is up. And if you're not familiar with yoga, you can start with your knees on the ground, your hands on the ground, and then just tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground and pike up in the pelvis. Don't let the ribs go toward the thighs, but instead pull the front ribs up into the back body.

Then what you can do is walk your feet up a wall, so you would take your down dog, with your heels touching the wall, walk your hands back as close as you feel like you can you know that you feel like you're going to be able to maintain, and then step one foot up at a time. So you're at a 90 degree angle, essentially. Your hands are on the ground, your feet are on the wall. And you're using gravity to help you. But also you're countering gravity with your abdominal wall and lifting up. This is more advanced, strength wise and stretch wise. So if it feels like too much, then stay in a down dog and work it there. But that's essentially a forward fold of sorts, and you happen to be inverting.

Alternative pose 4 The other option is to face the wall and bring one leg straight up and step your foot on the wall. So you're forming, again, that kind of 90 degree angle between your top and bottom leg. Attempt to just stand there and get as tall as you can in your spine without letting your left knee bend and without letting your pelvis tuck under. 

This is also a way of also retraining how you sit, because if you're used to sitting and kind of rocking back into the pelvis and the lower back, this will help you form that pathway in your brain of how to keep your pelvis neutral. And the leg from the foot that's on the wall is getting a wonderful hamstring and calf and foot stretch. 

And you can keep it like that. You don't even have to bend over like you would in a forward fold. If you can keep your spine long, you can start to reach your hand toward the wall. But notice if you round in the spine or the pelvis dips or something. What's most important is that uprightness of the spine and then, if you have the flexibility, you can add the hands toward the wall. 

Resources:
Related Episodes