Keep Calm and Bend On: From Front to Back, Gentle Yoga Poses Release and De-stress
Nov 02, 2015 09:23PM
● By Carrie A. Picardi
Stressors are a reality of life; they are ubiquitous and no one can escape them, from minor frustrations to major life shakeups. So why do some people always seem to be calm and grounded, unfazed by annoyances and life’s unpredictable curveballs? They likely have found stress management techniques that can be integrated easily into daily life. For some, that includes a regular yoga practice that can range from several poses throughout the day to full yoga classes in a studio or at home.
In particular, there are two types of yoga poses—forward bends and back bends—which easily can be added into your daily routine regardless of location or schedule. They can even be done in a chair if necessary. Forward and back bends are complementary yoga asanas or poses in that each enables a release for the other. They can be a powerful healing companion to other daily stress relief and coping practices.
For many, a typical day involves sitting for long stretches of time. Perhaps a significant part of the day is in front of a computer; this time is usually sandwiched between lengthy commutes hunched over a steering wheel. Is it any wonder that after this type of ongoing routine, your entire back body, from the calves and hamstrings all the way up the back to the shoulders and neck, constantly cries out for attention and release?
Forward bends facilitate relaxation, promote movement of the spine and flexion of the hip sockets, balance the external rotators and adductors of the hips, and—perhaps the most critical one for many—release connective tissue on the back body. Ahh, sounds lovely, right? However, the forward bends have some requirements of their own; this is not a gravity-takes-us-away party.
Different types of forward bends have a unique focus and require attention to certain areas of the body. For example, the standing forward bends all move with gravity, so attention to the control element will perhaps be more critical than with the other two types; seated forward bends have less gravity involvement. How can you ensure release, strength and flexibility while integrating forward bends into your practice? Attention to posture and alignment is critical. Forward flexion should occur at the hip sockets. Strive for a neutral spine; a rounded back means forward flexion is occurring through the spine and not the hip sockets. Props such as blocks and straps may be helpful with forward bends to maintain proper alignment.
It is important to remember to engage core stability during all types of forward bends; this is where Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, comes in for a solid foundation. This will enable you to move through forward bends with strength and grace, and reap the physiological back-body benefits as well as the emotional and mental benefits that come with this release.
Back bends are one of those categories of asanas that many yogis are usually not thrilled about doing, but know they are exactly what is needed during a stressful time (and they make us feel wonderful afterward). A reason why back bends are challenging is because many people have issues with lower back tightness, from stress. However, forward bends will allow the lower back muscles to loosen and relax, which will then help with back bends. Back bends are therapeutic for releasing fascia of the chest and relaxing the muscles around the entire front body, including the ribs, sternum and heart. From an emotional perspective, back bends are heart chakra openers, allowing a release of that which no longer serves and making space to receive love and positive energy.
Back bend poses either move with or against gravity. While both types of back bends involve a spinal extension, there are different muscular actions that occur. With an asana such as Camel Pose, a bit more control is required to ensure that gravity doesn’t take over. With the Bow Pose asana, a bit more strength in the back is needed to work against the natural pull of gravity. To allow back bend poses to unfold with greater ease and reduce the chance of tight muscles seizing up or jamming, integrate releasing moves in between asanas such as “windshield wiping” the legs from side to side and moving into Child’s Pose.
In order to benefit from forward and back bends, it is best that you:
• Have patience and be gentle with oneself.
• Maintain control and not allow gravity to take over the posture.
• Give attention to the breath throughout the posture.
• Move the largest joints first during spinal movement.
• Build up core and pelvic stability to support the back muscles.
• Relax while moving through the posture.
• Identify a pain-free range of motion.
• Be willing to accept that a deepening is not always available; some- times less is more.
Carrie Picardi, Ph.D, RYT-200, yoga teacher and a Reiki master trained in the Usui lineage, as well as a formally trained and educated psychologist and university professor. She is the owner of SoulFulfillment Holistic Wellness (SoulFulfillment.net), her private practice that integrates the holistic wellness systems of yoga, meditation, crystal work and Reiki energy healing. See ad, page 33.