Safe Forward Folds

Forward folding asanas can be very beneficial and relaxing if performed correctly.  However, they have the potential to injure the spine and or the hamstrings if not properly performed.  The focus of this blog post will be to examine what muscles to contract and where the movement should come from in order to safely enjoy forward folds.

The safest way to perform forward fold asanas is with a hip hinge and maintaining a straight spine.  Additionally, standing sitting forward fold can be modified by bending the knees to accommodate for tight hamstrings.  Even long time yoga practitioners can continue to have tight hamstrings due to sitting for much of the day.

First, let us examine standing forward fold or Uttanasana:

In this image the spine is flat caused by co-contraction of the spinal extensors and  abdominal muscles.  Additionally, the knees are slightly bent to decrease the pressure on the hamstrings.  If additional stretch is desired, lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling instead of pushing the knees back.

Compare the above version of standing forward fold to the image below.  Note how the spine is rounded and the knees are fully extended.  This version produces maximal lumbar flexion and is completely passive, placing the lumbar spine at risk for injury.    Be sure to avoid moving your spine this way while performing Uttanasana.

The same principles apply to sitting forward bends.  Looking at the image of wide-angled seated forward bend or Upavistha Konasana, again we can notice the long upright spine and slightly bent knees.  This position allows for a safe and deep stretch of the hamstrings and hip adductor muscles.

In contrast, the spine in the picture below is very rounded.  This is not an effective or safe way to perform wide-leg forward fold.  Be sure to hinge at the hips and to keep the spine long by co-contracting the spinal extensors and abdominal muscles.

By taking care of your body’s position with asana practice, you will be able to enjoy your yoga practice without pain for many years to come.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dear Charlie Photography
    May 10, 2012 @ 12:35:29

    Very informative, thank you!

    Reply

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