Have you noticed that there seem to be an infinite variety of yoga poses? Truly! If you are doing home practice it can be confusing what poses you’ll do and what sequences.
Equally, you may get stuck in a rut if you just do the same old, same old postures for efficiency’s sake. I noticed this had happened to me and, in particular, regarding forward bends. I had fallen into a routine of doing the splits, head-to-knee poses and double leg forward bends, and that was about it. If I leave one group of poses out of my practice, you can bet I’ve left it out of my teaching, too.
This week, in my Sunday afternoon practice, I rediscovered many of the forward bends I used to do. It was so satisfying and peace-inducing to do a variety of these humble poses.
I’ll have as the theme for my classes this week forward bend poses. Because I like classes to be well-rounded, we will still do standing poses, preparatory inversions, simple backbends, twists, pranayama and relaxation.
Why do we practice forward bends? Experienced teachers will tell you that seated forward bends are poses that foster a calm state of mind. You become quiet, sedate and grounded. The poses also encourage humility. You keep your gaze downward and your demeanour introverted.
That’s what the yoga textbooks say is supposed to happen. But for me, this family of poses was the most challenging for me in the beginning. Why? Because I felt I wasn’t good at them. Forward bends drove me to tears as they brought up issues of low self-esteem. I was so competitive with myself and others. I would compare myself to the most bendy student in a class or even to the teacher. In my eyes, I always came off badly.
I’m a great recommendation for consistent yoga practice. Hanging in there for 40-plus years, I eventually developed a completely different relationship to forward bends. I experienced an attitude adjustment with other poses, too. I don’t even remember when things changed. It just happened: drip, drip, drip. What made the biggest difference was letting go of how competitive I was.
In stead of thinking of how I should be doing the pose and how it should look, I became interested in what was happening when I did a pose. I felt into poses like the splits (upavistha konasana) or the double leg forward stretch (paschiomottanasana), and they became new. It’s amazing what can show up when one has an attitude of curiosity and sensitivity. One’s practice becomes more yogic – that is, releasing, relaxing, sweet.
Here’s a version of a forward bend to help you face the twin bugbears – being aggressive or being despairing. Supported cross-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 stiff body. However, if you are more flexible, you might want to do this pose with less support, say, resting your head on a bolster or foam block. Stay in the pose for a few minutes in the spirit of inquisitiveness. The prize might just be a feeling of peace.