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  • Mara Olney

Destress with Forward Folds

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?


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