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What's Restricting Your Forward Folds?

Lately I've had quite a few students ask me what they can do to deepen their forward folds, whether it be standing or seated. Standing forward fold, seated staff pose, wide legged fold, seated straddle, and plenty of others. The first thing I want to say about this is that *THIS IS SO FRIGGIN NORMAL**. Everyone is particularly unique around their hips and pelvis regarding bone structure, muscle structure, genetics, and flexibility in the muscles and connective tissues. There are hundreds of thousands of factors at play here when we start to break down or analyze a pose and how our own unique body structure may respond to that pose. And everyone responds differently. Full stop.

My Observations

One of the main things that I see, especially when we are taking a seated fold, is that is it difficult for students to sit up tall and straight. The lower back wants to collapse which causes a rounding through the spine and looks they are hunched over. When the lower back collapses like this, the spine rounds and the shoulders collapse inward. Another thing I notice in standing forward folds is that the hands don't want to touch the ground, or even the legs or thighs. Bending over simply is not in the cards. In saying that, we must deal ourselves a new deck.

Key Elements That May Restricting Your Fold

  1. The Pelvis: Folding forward MAINLY comes from tilting your pelvis forward, so if your hips are limited in how far they can flex then this may be one of the leads causes of your forward fold inhibition. Some people may be able to improve this hip flexion, and some may not. Again, it completes depends on body composition. If you experience pain or pinching in the hip join in forward folds, your body is telling you that there is something in the way of your fold and to please stop pushing. On the other hand, feeling tension (and not pinching) means that you may be able to taking your hip flexion a bit deeper. So much of our fold is the relationship of the pelvis relative to the leg itself, including all of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia that connect your pelvis to your leg. You could have open hamstrings for example, yet a tight and not-so-flexible hip rotator.

  2. The Hips: As mentioned above, the hip rotators could play a roll in keeping you from folding forward. There are so many connective tissues around the hips as well as other major muscles that play a role in hip rotation. The gluteus maximum is the largest muscle in the buttocks and is the most powerful external rotator muscle of the hip. Do you have really tight butt? Just something to think about...

  3. Tight Hamstrings: Although this isn't usually the main cause of your inability to forward fold, it can sometimes be.. we can't rule it out. Tight hamstrings are common and can lengthen over time to a certain point. That point in which your hamstrings reach their limit is based on again, body composition, genetics, etc.

What Can You Do

I HIGHLY recommend using props to assist you in your folds. This can make you feel more comfortable and can even allow areas of the body to open up, like the spine or hips, so you can take your folds a little deeper if that is your intention.

  1. Strap: Having a yoga strap close by if SUPER helpful. If you don't have a strap, you can use a towel, t-shirt, or athletic band of any kind. You can wrap the strap around your feet or ankles and grab the strap with your hands to pull yourself deeper into the fold. So often if you can't reach your legs or toes then you don't have the ability to PULL yourself into the fold, and that is often where we can lengthen or stretch out the areas of the body that need it most. You can use a strap both standing and seated.

  2. Sit on a pillow or blanket: This, my friends, blows people's minds. You can even roll your yoga mat over to create a little padding for you to sit on. This helps to lift the pelvis up a little bit to give you room in the hips and pelvis and allow the spine to straighten. This can help take your fold deeper simply by allowing your pelvis to tilt forward ever so slightly to open up the lower back and spine.

  3. Get reclined: Almost any fold that you can do while standing or seated you can also do while lying down on your back. This is a great way to make sure that the spine is positively staying straight since it is glued to the ground. You can take your legs up to the sky, up a wall, or even use your strap to wrap around your feet and pull your legs in even closer. When you are reclined you don't have to compromise your lower back and spine when trying to deepen your folds.

Big Takeaways

Everything is connected. Your hips connect to your abs and ribs and pelvis which connects to all of the muscles around the hips and legs which then goes on to connect with the rest of the body. What you think may be inhibiting your fold may not be the issue. This is worth exploring in your practice.... maybe you need to open the hips or connective tissues around the lower back more? Finally, YOU ARE UNIQUE. Everyone looks difference in each pose. I invite you to become more in tune and aware of where your body's limitations are, and to love yourself for your uniqueness. I love you for your uniqueness, because that's what makes you, you.

With much love, KK

Author's note: I am not a medical professional. Please take these tips and tricks mindfully and consult a medical professional if you experience pain, tingling, or numbness during your practice.

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