“Touching the Toes” is one act, many perform smilingly to show their flexibility. The other lot, (of course the stiffer one), covet for this touch so much so that being able to do so becomes one of their primary goals for joining Yoga. ‘Touching the toes’ however, is just a tiny aspect of the bigger picture. Performing this while paying attention to the minutest of details and technique is bound to reveal other dimensions of performing this posture.
Forward bend allows the extension to the posterior part of the body by releasing the stiffness from Plantar Fascia, Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Hamstrings, Hip Rotators & Erector Spiane. This chain of stretches automatically releases the stiffness from your lower back which is a common complaint amongst the maximum of the population, be it an athlete or an office goer. Practicing ‘Forward Bend’ postures can definitely help protect & rejuvenate the health of your lower part of back.
Types of Forward Bends
People mostly think of standing and sitting forward bends as the only forward bends but certain asanas performed lying down on back also fall in the category of ‘Forward Bend.’ Hence, forward bend can be performed in three different ways:
- While standing Uttanasana
- While sitting Paschimottanasana
- While lying down on the back Halasana
Over rounding of the back
Rounding of the back is common among many during a forward bend, even among, the ones who are able to touch their toes. There could be few obvious reasons for this:
- The primary one being tight glutes & hamstrings which do not allow the lengthening of the posterior part of your body. To counter this tightness, one tries to push one’s body forward by rounding one’s back as it becomes easier to do so.
- You are initiating the bent from your mid back instead of your hips
- Connective tissues of the posterior part of your body are tight
- You dropped your head down from the very beginning of the posture which then restricts the range of the motion
Right Initiation – The Foundation of Forward Bend
Irrespective of flexibility, initiating a forward bend in the right manner will work on foundational development of the posture. It will not only prevent injuries which are common due to the forced movement (due to lack of flexibility in the hips & the calves and overuse of other parts) but also will add optimal benefits to your current state of health.
The hips & the spine play a pivotal role while performing forward bends. Understanding their dominant roles and switching of the roles at different stages of performance is what makes all the difference.
Let us take an example of Paschimottanasana (video) – a sitting forward bend. You sit with your legs stretched out in front; your heels are sliding out & toes are flexing in; hips are grounded to the floor. This first movement fixes the underside of your legs to the floor as if locking it into position, thereby, allowing the enhancement of the next movement.
Next, start extending the upper part of your body forward and initiate this movement from your hip sockets, as if, the hips are not only sliding back but also protruding out sideways and therefore, optimizing the movement. At this stage, when the hips have taken a center stage, there is slight engagement of the lumber spine which throws your pelvis out by creating curvature on the lower back and pushes your chest out and up. Going forward, the spine takes on the primary role where you are lengthening each vertebrae away from each other to, first, rest your stomach on your thighs, second, your chest on your knees and , finally, your head on your shins.
Please note when your spine takes the center stage you can leverage the arm extension to complete the posture, further accentuating the lengthening process. A common mistake while performing forward bend is pushing your body forward from the hands which creates unnecessary stress on your back, reduces the range of motion and leads to injuries. Follow these steps to perform forward extension bends safely. Eventually you will reach your goal of ‘Touching the toes’ gracefully and without injuries.
‘Our mind gets geared up to initiate a movement based on the first word heard.’ If we think of forward bend in the terms of ‘Forward Extension Bend’, mind will do a better job of initiating from the right base, using extension as an important movement of the posture.
Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.