Regardless of what you’ve been told in yoga class or seen on Instagram, the transformative experience you look for in your forward curves has nothing to do with the look of your posture. The real benefit comes from how the posture feels.
While any forward flexion will stretch your back and provide ground energy, the secret to getting the most out of this type of posture is not your flexibility, but your breathing. When you understand how your breathing affects your anatomy, most importantly, your spine, you can maximize your stretching and at the same time create more ease in posture. And the easier you find it, the calmer you experience it. Better yet, working with the breath can prevent it from overheating and causing tension. Instead, be honest about how you are doing in your practice.
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How your breathing affects your anatomy
The Viniyoga tradition, in which I was educated, offers several essential teachings on the relationship between breathing and anatomy.
- Every movement begins with our breathing. Breathing initiates the movement of the spine, which initiates the movement of the limbs.
- The way you breathe, if properly understood and practiced, supports both the anatomical and energetic effects of posture.
- A gentle, progressive engagement of your lower abdomen helps you to achieve a complete and deliberate exhalation, which in turn supports the posture you are practicing.
- A gentle, progressive expansion of the chest and relaxation of the abdomen helps you to achieve a complete and deliberate inhalation, which in turn supports the posture you are practicing.
See also: The science of breathing
How to use breathing in curves forward
Most of us have learned to exhale in curves forward and in inspiration to get out of it. This is a solid starting point! However, you can further refine your breath to your advantage. Once you get the hang of how a posture looks, you can find ease and let your breath and gravity guide you.
The following techniques will help you to deepen the outer expression of your forward bends, as well as your inner experience.
As you exhale, gently pull your lower abdomen muscles and feel as this begins to subtly guide your body toward the action of forward flexion. As you inhale, first feel the expansion of your chest and as this begins to guide you naturally to get out of the posture. As you continue to breathe and move, observe how each exhalation naturally contracts and settles your body, and how each inhalation naturally extends and expands your body.
If you feel it, even in a very subtle way, you are sure to get it! Bending your knees slightly as you move dynamically for a forward bend will also help your breathing by creating less restraint on your legs, hips and back, and allowing your spine to extend, which will encourage space to breathing reaches its full capacity. Although you are very flexible, I recommend that you practice a few times with your knees slightly bent so that you can experience the fullness of your breathing.
Don’t be in a hurry
This is where the real magic happens! What I like about maintaining postures is that they are actually slightly dynamic, due to the nature of our living bodies, which breathe and pale. Think of it this way: even when we are still, the wave of our breath creates a subtle movement. Knowing this will completely change your forward curves. Feeling like the core coupling while exhaling allows your back to lengthen and relax, inviting a deeper stretch. Doing every deliberate breath while standing in a forward curve will improve posture both structurally and energetically. Each inhalation helps you to lengthen, each exhalation helps you to deepen your posture. The difference between the first and sixth breaths will be obvious. The difference in a month or a year will be profoundly profound.
As long as you stay in the posture, you can tell the difference between a stretch and a stretch. Focus less on how you think your posture should be and more on how you feel toward expansion and contraction. You want to feel a stretch, but you should never feel pain.
See also: Fine-tune your curves forward
How to practice forward bends
The following instructions explain three common forward flexions, although you can apply the same principles to any forward flexion, such as Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose). ), or at any time you bend at the hips. Keep in mind that finding less intensity and more length in a forward bend sometimes only comes with time and consistency, as with so many things in life.
Uttanasana (Forward curve)
Inhale: From the foot, rto thelook at your arms above and feel the expansion of the chest and the extension of the spine. In an exhalation, gently pull your abdominal muscles toward your spine and bend your knees slightly as you bend forward, your chest falling closer to your thighs. On the next inhalation, feel the subtle expansion of the chest and the elongation of the spine.
Exhale: Stretch your belly and sink your chest closer to your thighs, increasing your back stretch.
Keep turning forward: Repeat with the rhythmic and gentle lengthening and lowering in tune with the breath. If you experience tension in your lower back or back of your legs, bend your knees more generously and continue to use your breathing to maintain and improve posture. Do not force the shape of the posture.
See also: 4 ways to adapt forward flexion to your body
Paschimotanasana (sitting forward curve)
Inhale: Sit high on the mat with your legs straight in front of you, raise your arms to your ears, and feel your chest expand and your spine extend.
Keep turning forward: Use the inhalations to reach the chest forward, as if you could slide it closer to your feet, and use the exhalations to bring the chest to the thighs, noticing more stretching in the back. If you experience strain on your lower back or back of your legs, bend your knees more generously and continue to use your breathing to improve your posture. Do not force the shape of the posture.
Marichyasana I (Position dedicated to the sage Marichi I
Inhale: Sit on the mat with your legs straight in front of you, bend your right knee to draw the heel in front of the sitting right bone, and let your right knee fall slightly open and tilt your torso forward so that it reaches inward. . from your right thigh. Pull your right hand forward as it stretches. Stretch your right knee toward the midline so that the inner right knee embraces the right outer shoulder.
Keep turning forward: In an inhalation, lift your chest forward and upward, feeling the deep stretch of your upper back and shoulders. In an exhalation, engage your abdominal muscles as you lean forward as you release your shoulders away from your ears. While linking your arms may make this posture feel much more restricted, note how intentionally using breathing can help you improve your stretching quality and ground energy in this posture.
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