Lifting and Lengthening
Patience and attention bring strength to subtle muscles
BY THE MAGAZINE OF YOGA STAFF
These postures may be unsuitable for your personal condition including but not limited to spine, back muscle and disc issues, glaucoma, and high blood pressure. Always check with your doctor before trying any yoga posture.
Forward folds are touted for their calming capacity. It’s often pointed out the heart is sheltered in this posture. Much of the nurturing comes from the readjustment of the blood chemistry through the release of tension in the major flexors of the body, especially the psoas.
Additionally, the forward fold decompresses and brings space into the low back where the diaphragm and psoas originate.
Change your focus
Rather than thinking of folding in these postures, actively lengthen your legs.
Release tension and tightness as you extend your torso and release forward. Practice gradually with lots of support until you have clear body awareness. The more accurately you make use of your muscles, the less you use your joints as levers.
Forward fold (uttanasana)
Place blocks in front of you. If you feel tight, try stacking a pair of blocks under each hand for stability and to avoid strain. Forcing the edge of your range of motion is counterproductive: it will tighten your back instead of relaxing it, and you may injure yourself.
After sun salutations or warm ups stand in mountain posture.
Exhale as you bend your knees deeply and fold forward. Let your torso and belly come to rest on your thighs. The key is to bend your knees as much as necessary – don’t try to bend foward further as this will not help anything and may cause harm. Use the blocks.
Release your head and neck. The crown of your head will point toward the floor as you soften. Breathe in your low back, two or three breaths, or as long as is comfortable.
Lift part way, hands on thighs. Breathe. Lengthen your torso parallel to the floor, then exhale and release again, knees bent until your belly is on your thighs. Let your head and neck release.
Lengthen your inner thighs, reaching into your feet. If you feel some contraction in your quadriceps, that’s good. Lift your sits bones up toward the ceiling, not pushing. If your leg doesn’t straighten the whole way, don’t worry and don’t push. Breathe, again pausing as long as it comfortable.
When finished, bend your knee, push into your feet and walk your hands up your legs as you stand up, then raise your arms overhead.
Head to knee, standing (parsvatanasana)
Stack blocks at the front of your mat to support you as you build muscular and neurological strength.
Forward fold. Step your right foot back to lunge. Keep your left knee above your ankle, and not forward of your ankle. Turn your right foot out to an angle that relieves tension in your right knee and drop your right heel to the floor.
Push into your left foot, bend and straighten your left knee several times to bring more blood flow into your left leg.
With your hands on blocks or the floor, slow your motion and begin to lift your sits bones as you reach your left sit bone back. Gradually contracting the quadriceps on your left leg, also draw your pelvic floor muscles toward the sits bones, lengthening your mid-body. Your torso is parallel to the floor. Breathe here 2 or 3 breaths or as long as is comfortable. Release to lunge.
A second time, lengthen the hips back as you press your left foot to the floor evenly lifting the arch of your foot. First extend the torso parallel to the floor, then lifting the sits bones, lengthen your heart over your knee. Breathe with the neck and head released. When you finish, allow your left knee to bend lift your torso, and step your right foot forward.
Rest and repeat, beginning with the left foot stepped back.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.