We've been doing forward bends in class this past week. Some people love 'em, some people shudder. I've always liked forward bends, but I have pretty flexible hips and hamstrings. I always fret when I teach this class, because it can be very discouraging to those who are not so bendy below the the waist. I can see people shutting down when I announce the day's theme...
At that point, I guess, it becomes a class about a lot more than just lengthening the backs of the legs. It's hard to see a more flexible student bend completely in half and not be a bit envious. But, it's also a good reminder that a yoga practice is about your own body and its capabilities...not how it compares to somebody else's.
I started with a quick explanation and demo about the importance of concentrating on the pelvis. In forward bends the stretch comes from tipping the pelvis forwards and stretching the back of the legs by increasing the distance from sit bones to heels. Rounding the spine and hunching the shoulders gets the chest and face closer to the legs, but doesn't stretch the hamstrings and calves. Depending on the student's determination to get the face to the knees, it can be dangerous, because forcing the chest forwards like that is to compensate for the lack of flexiblity around the pelvis. It might look like a deeper stretch, but it isn't.
So, I encouraged everyone to realize that a deep stretch could be had just by a subtle folding at the hip crease ("lead with the belly button"). By keeping the spine long and the chest lifted, the fold happens at the hinge of the hip joint--where the stretch should be originating, instead of collapsing the upper body. It seemed to resonate with everyone, and I saw less hunching. By holding the fold for awhile and breathing deeply into the lower back and hips, I could see students "getting" the work of the poses and keeping their awareness in their own bodies.
What's your tip for forward bends?