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  • Mara Olney

What are the benefits of folding poses in yoga?

There are so many incredible physical benefits to forward folding yoga postures, such as more hamstring flexibility, forward folds also improve your spinal and hip mobility. Forward folds can also help relieve back and neck pain. And when you are looking for a calming and grounding experience in your yoga practice, forward folds are where you want to dedicate more time. Just like how heart-opening poses energize your nervous system, forward folding postures create a calming effect throughout your central nervous system.

How does folding in yoga help to de-stress/calm your mind?

The spinal cord is a complex bundle of nerves that is responsible for movement and sensation in your entire body. Your spinal cord carries signals between your brain and the rest of your body. During a forward fold your body is surrendering, and releasing, while creating space in-between each of your vertebra. The space you are creating gives way for increased circulation to the beautiful bundle of nerves that is your spinal cord. When you fold your spine and body forward you are increasing blood flow to your spinal cord. Your nourished and happy spine then sends a calming signal to your brain, which in turn creates a soothing effect throughout your entire body. Forward folds are a quick way to move out of fight and flight and into rest and digest. This is why we yoga teachers often cue forward folds at the end of class before savasana.

My favorite forward folds:

Standing Wide-Leg Forward Fold or in Sanskrit “Prasarita Padottanasana”

This is my absolute favorite forward fold because it is dynamic with all the arm variation opportunities, and it is also an easy pose to transition into and out of in so many different ways. I love how this fold creates a stretch deep stretch in the hamstrings, an opening sensation in the pelvis and a beautiful release throughout the entire back back body. And because of the wide straddle stance, this pose also feels stable and grounded which makes it easy to relax and focus in on your breath.

Cues:

  1. Step your feet wide apart

  2. Open your heels a little wider than your toes (slight pigeon toe)

  3. Bring your hands to your hips and hug your elbows back a bit and keep

  4. Stamp your feet firmly into the earth and fold your ward with a flat back

  5. Once you are folded take an arm variation of your choice. Hands can be placed on the earth between your feet. Option to grab hold of your ankles and guide yourself in deeper. Or take clasped hands behind the back.

  6. Lean your weight forward into your toes

  7. Tilt your tail bone up

  8. Let go of the weight of your head and relax your neck

  9. Stay for 5-10 full cycles of breath

  10. To exit the pose; bring your hands to your hips, engage your legs and come up wit ha flat back.

Childs Pose or “Balasana”

A fan favorite, for sure is child’s pose. I love cueing this pose in-between intense Vinyasa flows for a moment of re-grounding. This posture instantly calms the body and mind.

Cues:

  1. From all fours, bring your knees wide and your big toes together to a touch and sink your hips back into your heels.

  2. Drape your arms forward

  3. Rest your forehead on the earth

  4. Take a gentle tuck of your chin to lengthen the back of your neck

  5. Close down your eyes

  6. Bring your tongue to the lower pallet and feel your breath swirling around the back of your throat

  7. With every exhale, feel your hips sinking deeper into your heels and your heart resting heavier toward the earth.

  8. Shift your focus to the space between your brow where your forehead meets the mat. Breathe into that space. Breathe into your third eye.

  9. For a more calming experience, repeat this mantra, “I am grounded. I am grounded.”

  10. To exit the pose, breath in a return to all fours.

Seated Forward Fold or “Paschimottanasana”

This forward fold is known as one of the top four most important yoga postures of them all. This posture will lengthen your hamstrings, release your lower back, and bring you into a mindful awareness of the sensations in your body and the quality of your breath.

Cues:

  1. Begin seated, extend your legs forward, engage your legs, push through your heels and draw your toes back toward you

  2. Tilt your pelvis forward and untuck your tail-bone

  3. Sit “core-tall.” Think about lifting your ribs off your hips

  4. Inhale and reach your arms alongside your ears

  5. On your exhale, fold into yourself

  6. For a more passive fold, place your hands on either side of your legs and soften your legs

  7. For an active experience, grab hold of your calves, ankles or feet if it’s available, and draw yourself in deeper

  8. Tuck your chin slightly and lengthen the back of your neck

  9. Take 5-10 deep breaths and allow your body to become heavy on your exhalations

  10. To exit, re-engage your arms alongside your ears and lift your torso off your legs on an inhalation

*If your hamstrings feel super tight, roll up a towel and place in under your knees

Whether you practice yoga regularly or not, add forward folds to your daily life to de-stress, and calm your mind. Pay attention to your natural behavior when you fold your body forward, whether standing or seated. There is a good chance that you automatically shut down your eyes, slow your breath, and you might even let out a sigh of relief. That’s because forward folds not only feel wonderful, but they actually are wonderful! After your forward folds, take a moment to observe how you are feeling. How has your mood shift? Do you feel more relaxed?


  • Mara Olney

Updated: Sep 22





You describe yourself as outgoing, an extrovert, perhaps even the life of the party. You feel happy, alive, and excited about life when you are surrounded by others! Sure, you recognize that you prefer to be around other people, but if you go from happy to depressed when the party is over like a light switch was just flipped off, it’s time to look within and find out what’s going on.

First let me start by saying, I am not a doctor, I am not a shrink, I am not a counselor.

I am a yoga teacher, a business owner, a mother, and I also experience depression and anxiety when I am alone. I am not here to provide you with a cure for clinical depression. I would like to share with you what I have learned from my experiences with feeling depressed when I am alone and how I have learned to change my outlook and literally change my entire life!

The reason for any of the unpleasant and pleasant feelings that we experience as human beings are usually not as complex as we like to sometimes conjure up. Unpleasant feelings are a very normal part of being alive. And if we can learn to sit with those unpleasant feelings, instead of pushing them away because they feel uncomfortable, we can begin to change our experience, feel ok with being alone, and begin living a more fulfilled life.

I remember from a very young age, noticing that I was a very social being! I have always loved being around other people. I felt happiest when I was communicating, creating, playing and laughing with others. I also noticed that when others were not around I felt a sharp decline in my energy. I quickly became unmotivated, uninspired, sad, uncomfortable, anxious, worried and sometimes very depressed. So naturally, I wanted to avoid those icky feelings at all costs! I needed my people. I needed my fix. My energy boost. People are what would make me feel better! And they did! Until I was inevitably alone again. Years of this roller coaster of feeling high on life and then low energy had me feeling out of control of my own emotions and caused me to become very worried. I became deeply concerned about my emotional well-being. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. I was convinced that my feelings we not normal. And I definitely did not want to tell people that I was feeling having dark and uncomfortable feelings. I didn’t want anyone to think something was wrong me with. So I stuffed it down. I ignored the bad feelings and covered them up with things that would temporarily make me feel better and I continued to surround myself with people so I could ignore the problem.

But sometimes, you gotta be alone! I eventually became tired of depending on others for my boost of energy, for my fix to feel good about life. I knew I needed to learn how to be ok when I am alone. And it is time for you to learn how to be ok when you are alone, too! It’s time to change the way that you react to feelings of discomfort, loneliness and boredom. Here’s how!


1. Acceptance


Welcome in the feelings that you are feeling! Do you feel shitty and depressed when you are alone? Embrace it! When you push down your feelings and cover them up with things that temporarily make you feel good, those uncomfortable feelings don’t go away. It’s time to stop avoiding discomfort! Your feelings are your teachers. They are revealing to you important things about yourself! It’s time to pay attention. It’s time to spend some time alone. Intentionally. Not because there are not any other options to fill your time, but because you are making time to be alone to observe your

feelings as they are.


2. Detachment.


After you welcome and define how you are feeling, it’s time to sit with those feelings. This is different from wallowing in our “bad” feelings. Because we have already decided that we are ok with them. Become curious about your feelings as you notice them. Ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What sensations do I notice in my body when I am feeling this way? Observe your breath. Observe tension in your body. Observe your posture. Observe your thoughts. What stories are you telling yourself about how you are feeling? Try tweaking those stories, not to push them down, but to change the way you react to them.

For example...

Instead of this :

“I am depressed. I feel sad. I don’t like being alone because it makes me feel worthless.”

Try adjusting how you view your feelings :

“I am observing that I feel depressed and low energy when I am in solitude. And it’s normal and ok to feel this way. The way that I feel has nothing to do with my worth or value as a human being. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.”

Now repeat this mantra:

“I have feelings, but I am not my feelings. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.”

3. Breathe.

Often when we feel uncomfortable, depressed or anxious, our breath is poor. It’s time to focus on improving the quality of your breath! As a yoga teacher, I tell people all the time, the poses that we do in class are great tools to help improve the quality of your life, but it takes time and consistency to notice those changes. But your breath is so powerful, that by taking just a short amount of time to intentionally deepen your breath, you will notice changes in how you are feeling almost instantly!

Try this!

  1. Sit up really tall.

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Relax your tongue to your lower palette

  4. Take a deep breath in and fill your lungs completely. Hold your breath at the top of your inhale for 3 counts.

  5. Exhale slowly. Empty your lungs completely and pause at the bottom of your breath for 3 counts before taking your next inhale.

  6. Repeat for 4 (or more) more full cycles of breath, pausing at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale.

  7. Observe how you feel.

  8. Do this exercise every day when you are alone and observe how you feel after your intentional breath. All feelings are welcome.

4. Positive reinforcement.

You have accepted that you don’t always feel great when you are alone. We are now ok with this. You have detached yourself from these icky feelings by realizing that “I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.” You have drawn your senses inward by intentionally improving that quality of your breath, and you have observed how you are able to affect how you feel in certain ways by practicing breath control. Now it’s time to transform your energy and create new feelings that are associated with being alone. This is different from the old habit of stuffing down and avoiding the uncomfortable feelings. Because now we have made peace with those “bad” feelings. In fact, we have welcomed them in! Now that we are becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable, it’s time to get busy! Alone! This is the perfect time to do something that is enjoyable and productive on your own. This is called positive reinforcement! It’s kind of like a reward, BUT I am not talking about rewarding yourself with a glass of wine, or rewarding yourself with a Netflix binge sesh. Now is the time to reinforce with productive and creative activities that will help you to feel like a more fulfilled human being when you are not surrounded by people and distractions. Here are some ideas for you!

  1. Yoga. Yoga is great for your body and mind. Yoga is an activity that can boost your confidence and is fun to work on alone! Going to a studio is also great, but this is about being ok with being alone today. So I’m talking about a home practice here.

  2. Journal. Journaling is an amazing tool to improve your self-awareness and to explore a little creative writing also. Journal without a plan. If you don’t know what to write about start by writing how you feel in this moment.

  3. Read. An actual book. Not on your phone or tablet where notifications and distractions will pop up. Pick up a book that seems interesting (NOT DEPRESSING. This is not the time for sad stories. We are molding our minds and intentionally choosing something that is a positive reinforcement) and dive in!

  4. Go for a walk. Without headphones. Without your phone. Connect with nature. Alone. Observe the sounds, smells, colors and anything else you notice. The point is to be present.

  5. Pot a plant. There is something about getting your hands dirty and connecting with a living plant that is satisfying and fulfilling.

There are many more activities that you can use as positive reinforcement. I want you to pick something that you are doing in solitude. Being alone and scrolling through IG does not count as your positive reinforcement activity in case you were wondering!

What have we learned?

It’s ok to feel a little depressed. It’s ok to feel bored. It’s important to explore those feelings that you are feeling and to learn how to accept them and to observe what they are trying to show you. It is so liberating to be able to spend time alone and to use that time for positive activities that will improve your confidence and your mood. When you do not rely on others to lift you up you will be able to not only appreciate your alone time more, but you will find that you are able to appreciate your social time more as well. You become a better friend when you are not dependent upon them for your mood boost. And you will appreciate your time with you friends more when there are breaks in-between those times. And your friends will appreciate and respect your new found confidence and how fulfilled you are becoming.

*I would like to mention that sometimes our feelings are too big to tackle on our own and that seeking help from a professional is brave and important to do if you feel that you need support. If you ever feel like hurting yourself, please seek help immediately.