How to Do Yoga Forward Bend Postures

Forward bends are usually a good way to begin any Yoga movement routine (unless you’re dealing with spinal disc injuries or certain other back problems). Though back bends are the lively extroverts of the asana family, forward bends are the retiring introverts; they’re always performed with an exhalation — the passive, contracting phase of the breathing cycle.

Yogic forward bends call for movement from the hip joints, a switch that can help you maintain a healthy, stress-free spine as you correct poor forward-bending habits.

Seated forward bend: Pashcimottanasana

The seated forward bend intensely stretches the entire back side of the body, including the back of the spine and legs. It also tones the muscles and organs of the abdomen and creates a calming and quieting effect.

To enjoy these benefits, try the following:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs at hip width and comfortably stretched out in front of you.

    Bring your back up nice and tall and place your palms down on the floor near your thighs.

  2. As you inhale, raise your arms forward and up overhead until they’re beside your ears.

    Keep your arms and legs soft and slightly bent in Forgiving Limbs.

  3. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips; bring your hands, chest, and head toward your legs.

    Rest your hands on the floor, your thighs, knees, shins, or feet. If your head isn’t close to your knees, bend your knees more until you feel your back stretching.

  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 three times and then stay folded (Step 3) for 6 to 8 breaths.

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Head-to-knee posture: Janushirshasana

The head-to-knee posture keeps your spine supple, stimulates the abdominal organs, and stretches your back, especially on the side of the extended leg. It also activates the central channel. The central channel is the pathway for the awakened energy of pure consciousness, which leads to ecstasy and spiritual liberation.

Follow these steps to achieve this posture:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and then bend your left knee and bring your left heel toward your right groin.

  2. Rest your bent left knee on the floor (but don’t force it down) and place the sole of your left foot on the inside of your right thigh.

    The toes of the left foot point toward the right knee.

  3. Bring your back up nice and tall; as you inhale, raise your arms forward and up overhead until they’re beside your ears.

    Keep your arms and the right leg soft and slightly bent in Forgiving Limbs.

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  4. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips, bringing your hands, chest and head toward your right leg.

    Rest your hands on the floor or your thigh, knee, shin, or foot. If your head isn’t close to your right knee, bend your knee more until you feel your back stretching on the right side.

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 three times and then stay in Step 4 (the final forward bend) for 6 to 8 breaths.

  6. Repeat Steps 1 through 4 on the opposite side.

Volcano: Mahamudra

Ancient Hatha Yoga texts give high praise to the volcano posture. It strengthens the back, stretches the legs, and opens the hips and chest. This posture is unique in that has qualities of both a forward bend and a back bend. When used with special locks (bandhas) that contain and channel energy in the torso, this technique has both cleansing and healing effects.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, bend your left knee and bring your left foot toward your right groin.

  2. Rest your bent left knee on the floor to the left (but don’t force it down), and place the sole of your left foot on the inside of your right thigh with your heel in your groin.

    The toes of left foot point toward the right knee.

  3. Bring your back up nice and tall; as you inhale, raise your arms forward and up overhead until they’re beside your ears.

    Keep your arms and the right leg soft and slightly bent in Forgiving Limbs.

  4. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips, lift your chest forward, and extend your back without letting it round.

    Place your hands on the right knee, shin, or toes and look straight ahead.

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 three times and then stay in Step 4 for 6 to 8 breaths.

  6. Repeat the same sequence on the opposite side.

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Spread-legged forward bend: Upavishta konasana

The spread-legged forward bend stretches the backs and insides of the legs and increases the flexibility of the spine and hip joints. It improves circulation to the entire pelvic region, tones the abdomen, and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Note, though, that muscle density may make this posture difficult for most men. Check out the following steps:

  1. Sit on the floor, with your legs straight and spread wide apart (but not more than 90 degrees).

    Because this posture is challenging, give yourself an advantage by pulling the flesh of the buttocks out from under the sits bones (the bones directly under that flesh; they’re also known as the ischial tuberosities) and bending your knees slightly. Alternatively, sit on some folded blankets.

  2. As you inhale, raise your arms forward and up overhead until they’re beside your ears.

    Keep your elbows soft and your legs slightly bent. Bring your back up nice and tall.

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  3. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips and bring your hands, chest, and head toward the floor.

    Rest your extended arms and hands palms down on the floor. If you have the flexibility, place your forehead on the floor as well.

  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 three times and then stay in Step 3 (the folded position) for 6 to 8 breaths.

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