Lessons from the Mat: How to Do a Standing Forward BendArticle posted in: Fitness
By: Eliza Darling
In the U.S., more than half of the adult-aged population owns a smart phone. What this means is that our society is inundated with information. And, at any given moment, we can access a computer and look up anything we want to find.
Arguments are won, health ailments diagnosed, word meanings defined, statistics broken down, addresses and phone numbers found and locations and directions mapped out merely by using Google. We can learn how to cook a meal, tailor a suit, create a lesson plan and even practice yoga simply by pressing a button. Computers and the internet allow me to write this article and you to read it. Through social media, we can have disputes with strangers and friends alike, love affairs, business connections and become part of larger communities and events that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
But with so much “knowledge” at our fingertips, we’ve created a disconnect with our internal wisdom, the intuitive voice, that, when listened to, leads us where we need to go. We rely on the world around us- the small device in our pockets and purses—to provide us with the information and tools that already exist within each of us. We sacrifice the knowledge that can be learned from listening to our hearts with a universal “truth” that can only be gained from an external source. Technology is the path of the future, and there are so many incredible innovations and advances that have come from it, but it’s important not to forget that the strength and value of our human spirit is independent of its proliferation.
Setting aside time for a yoga practice is like unplugging the proverbial smart-phone. It allows us the freedom to explore our voice, knowledge and reason, by giving us time to tune out of the external world and check into our internal universe. The mind is loudest when the body is still and the voice is silent. There are a wealth of thoughts to observe, ideas to record, adversities to overcome and emotions to feel when we give ourselves the time and space to be present. When negative experiences of our past and/or anxieties about our future fester in our minds, they become wounds that are difficult to heal. When we ignore them, they get shoved deeper and deeper into the vortex of our consciousness, and as a result one of two things eventually will happen: a) We explode, lashing out and hurting others or b) We implode, suffocating our feelings until we hurt ourselves.
We are often so distracted by our life—and lets be honest, by our phones and computers—that the well-being of our internal self is sacrificed. Imagine if we took as much time to silently observe our thoughts as we did mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, or if we privately journal what we discover along the way instead of condensing our thoughts to fit into a Tweet. Perhaps we would be able to understand, process and let go of what holds us back or ties us to preconceived or misconstrued notions. When we sit with the thoughts that swarm our minds and often inhibit the liberation of our heart, we are giving our selves permission to confront and encourage our highest self to clear out the storage container of emotions. In doing so, we become able to make room for new experiences, relationships, ideas and feelings that will essentially enrich the quality of our lives.
POSE OF THE WEEK: UTTANASANA (STANDING FORWARD BEND)
This pose is a great one to incorporate into the first few poses of a practice, or more commonly in a vinyasa practice, to sprinkle throughout. It provides a great release and lengthening effect for the spine, and allows the practitioner to non-aggressively loosen tense neck muscles by utilizing the weight of the head. By having the head below the heart, the body doesn’t have to work as hard as it usually does to get the blood from the heart to the head. I usually encourage my students to imagine that unwanted thoughts are literally pouring from the crown of the head onto the mat.
- Calms the brain and can help to relieve stress and mild depression
- Can stimulate the liver and kidneys
- Stretches the hamstrings, calves and hips
- Can improves digestion
- May reduce fatigue and anxiety
- May relieve headaches and insomnia
- Can help relieve symptoms of menopause
- May be therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis and sinusitis
HOW TO DO IT:
- From Downward Facing Dog (last week’s pose), bend the knees and walk the hands back to the feet.
- Keep feet planted at least hip distance apart, even wider can feel more stable and supportive.
- Press into the outer edges of the feet and energetically lift the inner arches, feeling the lift travel up through the inner thighs and into the inner groins.
- Turn the tops of the thighs slightly inward.
- Lift the sit bones up toward the ceiling.
- If there is any pain, pressure or discomfort in the lower back, bend the knees.
- Tip the hips forward to equally distribute the weight between the ball mounds of the feet and the heels.
- Allow the fingers to rest on the floor in front of or next to the feet, reach back for the heels, or grab hold of opposite elbows or forearms.
- Relax the neck and allow the head to heavily hang.
- Feel the spine lengthen with each inhale and bend deeper with each exhale.
- Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
- With an inhale breath either a) Keep the knees bent and roll the spine up to stand, stacking one vertebrae on top of the next, or b) bring the hands to the lower back and, moving from the hips, come up with a long and straight spine.
TIPS & MODIFICATIONS:
- If there is any pain in the back, keep the knees bent
- To stretch deeper into the hamstrings, straighten the legs by pressing the back of the thighs toward the wall behind you.
- To loosen into the hips, sway the torso side to side
- To loosen into the neck muscles, nod the head “yes” and “no”
- To loosen into the shoulders, interlace the fingers at the lower back and wiggle the shoulder blades together, straighten the arms and simultaneously lift them overhead.
*Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.