The Subtleties of Forward Folds: Prasarita Padottanasana A
Forward folds have become increasingly special in my own yoga practice. For me, forward folds are so introspective, so calming and re-centering. Ever since I became a mother, I've really relished in these bends more so than any other family of poses.
I see students folding forward a lot, and while many times their alignment is awesome, I often see unproductive folds with very rounded spines and collapsed chests. It's not the end of the world and completely understandable to be tight and rounded in your forward folds. I just want to make sure that energetically students are moving their bodies in the right directions, that they're working the pose in a way that will transform and heal.
So let's look at Prasarita Padottanasana A, a basic wide-leg forward fold from the Ashtanga Yoga lineage. The general notes and cues for this fold are relevant and can be applied to the whole forward fold family.
+ With your hands on your waist, on an inhale take a wide legged stance (your feet should be about as wide apart as the length of one of your legs), turn the toes in slightly.
+ On an exhale, place the palms flat on the mat (or blocks if the floor is too far away today) shoulder-width distance.
+ Inhale, keep the hands on the ground (or block) and lengthen the spine forward, coming into a half-lift so the torso is close to parallel with the ground. Use this inhale as preparation for the full forward fold.
+ Exhale, keep that length in the spine and hinge from the hips to fold all the way forward, bringing the top of the head toward the ground. If you have the space, place the head on the ground right in line with your feet and walk the hands further back as shown in the photo above.
+ Lift the knee caps so that the thigh muscles activate.
+ Lean forward slightly, distributing the weight of the body evenly throughout the soles of the feet.
+ Lift the sit bones up toward the sky and press through the backs of the knees, working toward straight legs.
***It is totally okay to have bent knees in your forward folds. If you are tight and forward folds hurt or are very challenging, bend your knees toward your chest (rather than rounding your head to your knees) so that your spine stays long. Gently work those knees straight over time.
+ Pull the heart toward the floor and keep the neck long, lengthening the back body as much as possible all the way from the heels of the feet to the crown of the head.
+ Breathe here in your fullest expression of the pose for at least five breaths. Then, inhale half-lift, reaching the heart forward and looking forward. Exhale, stay right there in your half-lift.
+ On your next inhale, place your hands on your waist and rise all the way back up to standing.
Next time you're doing your yoga practice, take these cues into account! Spend a little more time in your forward bends to really feel the subtleties in your body. It's important to know that the way a pose feels is much more important than the way it looks. It's never been about getting your head to your shins. It's about healing, transforming, and deepening the mind-body-spirit connection to bring more peace into your life.
For love, with love.
Yoga Photography by Sean Shelton @capturedconnections