The Benefits of Forward Bends

Posted on December 10th, 2012 by in Yoga

There are many benefits to forward bends, both standing and sitting. They create length and space in the spine, counteracting compression, and their inward nature can promote introspection. Yet forward bends can also be a challenge to many people, especially those with tight hamstrings. Common physical patterns, such as overstretched back muscles and rounded shoulders (most likely from sitting in front of a computer for hours) are often exacerbated in forward bending poses.

But as senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Cristie Newhart says in her R&R retreat workshop Forward Bends, yoga can help us dissolve patterns so we can uncover fresh ways of looking and experiencing ourselves. This multifaceted awareness about how we move can help us cultivate a deeper, richer yoga practice, allowing us to discover new ease in our forward bends.

In the workshop, Cristie shares these tips for getting the most out of your forward folds:

Alignment is key. The action of forward bends, Cristie notes, is to fold at the hip crease, bringing the top of the pelvis forward. “Think of the way an old-fashion Rolodex flips forward,” she says. Other important alignment cues: lengthen the front of the body as you fold, keeping the neck and jaw relaxed, and engage the quadriceps so that the muscles around the knee are stabilized and protected.  “Engaging the quads also helps the hamstrings to lengthen,” Cristie says, “and the support of the abdominal muscles below the navel allow for greater flexibility in the lumbar spine.” Until you can really feel the articulation of the hips, and the hamstrings are sufficiently open, Cristie says that it’s best to practice forward bends with a slight bend in the knees.

Props are your friends. Use blocks in standing forward bends if your hands don’t reach the floor easily. The support of the blocks will help you lengthen the spine Bolster your seat with blankets or cushions for sitting forward folds, and grab a strap or towel to help reach your feet. Props can make forward bends more efficient, Cristie notes, because they can help prevent over-rounding the back, release tense shoulders, and ease locked knees—all physical misalignments typical in these poses.

Don’t force it. Forward bends are not about how deep you can go but rather how deeply you can release. “Less is more,” Cristie says. There’s no need to struggle, or force the body to get into a position it’s not ready for. Instead, surrender to the present moment, notice the experience, and settle into the breath. As Cristie reminds us, “Honor the body where it’s at—let it unfold at its own pace.”

How do you find ease in your forward bends? What are some of your favorite forward-folding poses?



About Jonathan Ambar

Jonathan relocated from Brooklyn to the Berkshires, which enabled him to finally earn his driver’s license at the tender age of 34. When not maneuvering winding country roads with great aplomb, he’s writing, editing, performing, and spending an inordinate amount of time upside down (which he’d like to think doesn’t get in the way of his ability to stay grounded). Jonathan is also a certified yoga teacher, having earned his 200-hour certification through OM Yoga Center.

2 Responses to “The Benefits of Forward Bends”

  1. YogaTwist December 10, 2012 11:19 am #

    I love forward bends because they foster surrender – not only to gravity (In standing forward bends) but to our body and its limitations and general gurrender to all those things out of our control…

  2. Naia Ankor February 27, 2014 8:01 am #

    Practicing yoga in a heated room increases your pulse rate and metabolism, allowing your blood vessels to become more flexible and making your bod burn some major calories! This in turn makes circulation easier and increases blood flow to the limbs.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.