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How to Perform Forgiving Limbs for Yoga Beginners

In Yoga, as in life, function is more important than form. The function, not the form, of the posture gives you its benefits. Beginners, in particular, need to adapt postures to enjoy their function and benefits right from the start.

One useful adaptive device is called Forgiving Limbs. With Forgiving Limbs, you give yourself permission to slightly bend your legs and arms instead of keeping them fully extended. Bent arms and legs enable you to move your spine more easily, which is the focus of many postures and the key to a healthy spine.

For example, the primary mechanical function of a standing forward bend is to stretch your lower back. If you have a good back, take a moment to try this adapted posture that’s safe for beginners:

  1. Stand up straight and, without forcing anything, bend forward and try to place your head on your knees, with the palms of your hands on the floor, or hold the backs of your ankles.

    Few men or women can actually do this, especially beginners.

  2. Now stand up again, separate your feet to hip width, and bend forward, allowing your legs to bend until you can place your hands on the floor and almost touch your head to your knees.

    When bending forward, be sure not to bounce up and down, as most people are inclined to do. You’re not a bungee cord!

As you become more flexible — and you will! — gradually straighten your legs until you can come closer to the ideal posture. Note, however, that standing forward bends are quite different from seated ones. A common lower back injury occurs when weekend warriors inspired by young, nubile instructors, as well as their own progress, try to do the seated version of the straight-legged forward bend and push too far.

[Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]
Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham
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