You know how it’s often said that people you struggle to like or get along with can teach you something about yourself? To quote Carl Jung: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Well, that’s definitely true of yoga postures!
And one I haven’t got along with brilliantly in the past is Sitting Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana).
This is a posture I battled with for years.
What a struggle!
I felt tension in my upper thigh muscles and around the front of my hips and struggled to bend forward very far at all.
I insisted on trying to keep my legs straight which meant my shoulders rounded in an effort to get my hands to my feet.
My legs shook, and as for breathing deeply or with awareness – well, no chance!
Seeing others “perfectly” aligned with their head towards their feet, legs straight out in front of them filled me with envy.
My struggle to perform a perfect posture led me to judgment, self-criticism and a lot of frustration!
Through my yoga teacher training and lots of practice I’ve come to an understanding of why this might be. And as it’s a posture which many of us struggle with, I thought I’d share my reflections and tips on it.
So, why the struggle?
Well, I’ve always had tight hamstrings and as this posture gives them a good stretch so that would be a reason why physically I – and many people – find it challenging.
But looking a bit deeper there may be other reasons.
Paschimottanasana works to release fears – perhaps in the past I wasn’t ready to release them.
Energetically, it calms the sacral chakra – Swadisthana – perhaps this area was under-active in the past, so calming it wasn’t right for me then.
There are often physical reasons why we find some yoga postures more challenging than others. But as every posture works on the level of the mind and emotions, as well as the body, it’s useful – and fascinating – to look a bit deeper and discover what other factors could affect your experience in a posture.
And remember, that this can change from day to day and develop over time.
Tips to help with this posture
Preparing the body by stretching the hamstrings first can help to facilitate the posture.
Also, consider using props and modifications.
Yoga isn’t a competition as to who can do the posture best! (A lesson I have now learned!) It’s far better to use props to enable you to feel the benefits of a posture than to struggle and feel tense and awkward.
So, raising your hips off the floor by sitting on a block or cushion will help you to bend forward from the hips rather than rounding your shoulders to reach forward. And if you need to bend your knees, then bend them and support them by placing a rolled up blanket underneath.
Focus on lifting up through the lumbar (lower) spine, bending from the hips and keeping looking forwards and stretching forwards rather than looking down and trying to touch your toes. If you do the latter you’re more likely to round your shoulders and stretch your arms forward in an effort to get to your feet.
I’ve also found it helpful to focus on my spine moving in a wave-like motion by visualizing a lengthening up from the base of my spine and seeing the energy flowing up the length of my spine and over my head along my arms towards my feet as I bend.
In Dru Yoga, the Sitting Forward Bend is practised as a flowing rather than static posture, so you flow forwards then uncurl the spine to upright bringing the hands to the heart and then flow forward again, and so on.
How my experience has changed
I no longer struggle with Sitting Forward bend, or battle with it. Because in struggling with any posture you’re actually struggling with aspects of yourself. Be gentle and accept how you feel when practising yoga and this experience will help you to be gentle and accepting of yourself in all aspects of your life.
Now I practise this posture mindfully, noticing if and where I’m feeling tightness and tension and giving myself permission to adjust and support myself without judgment.
So I look forward to keep on working with Paschi., seeing how my practice continues to evolve and noticing what it teaches me about my body, emotions and mind.
The Daily Bandha published a great article on forward bends: Preventative strategies for lower back strains in yoga
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