This week, I have set as a loose theme for my classes, forward bend poses. I say ‘loose’ because I wouldn’t want to leave out important elements like: standing poses, inversions, backbends, twists, pranayama and meditation. With all of that on the menu, I have to be on my toes to still keep a relaxed pace.
Seated forward bends are recommended as poses that foster a calm state of mind because you are quiet and sedate and, as well, promote humility because you keep your gaze downward and your demeanour introverted.
Well, that’s what the yoga textbooks say is supposed to happen. This particular family of poses was the most challenging for me in my early days of yoga because I felt I wasn’t at good at them. In fact, sometimes I would shed tears when I practised forward bends as practising them brought up issues of low self-esteem. I frequently compared myself to the most bendy students in a class or even to the teacher, and, in my eyes, I came off badly.
I’m probably a good recommendation for consistent yoga practice. Hanging in there for 40-plus years I eventually developed a completely different relationship to forward bends. In reality, I experienced an attitude adjustment with most poses, and I don’t even remember when it changed. What made a big impact was dropping how competitive I was, both with others and myself.
What was the difference? I finally came to be interested in what was happening when I did a pose like the open splits (upavistha konasana) or the double leg forward stretch (paschiomottanasana). It’s amazing what can show up when one has an attitude of curiosity, and what might be learned that makes practising the poses more yogic – that is, releasing, relaxing, sweet.
Here’s a version of a forward bend to help you face the twin bugbears – being aggressieve or being despairing. Supported x-leg forward bend offers a spinal stretch and, at the same, time gets your hamstrings out of the way; tight ‘hammies’ are always a big challenge if you have a stiffer body. However, if you are more flexible, you might want to do this pose with a lower support, say, resting your head on a bolster or foam block. Stay in the pose for a few minutes in the spirit of inquisitiveness, and the prize might be a feeling of peace.