Workouts have been on point lately. I've been pushing myself, working outside of my comfort zone and it feels amazing. While I make a point to stretch/yoga/Bodyflow two or three times a week in the midst of other workouts, I find it a good idea to take a full week every now and again to restore. Since I have a difficult time taking an entire week to rest, I have made the decision to make this week a restorative week when it comes to my workouts. I'm going to hit up cycling a couple of times but beyond that I am going to focus more on yoga, Bodyflow and stretching over the next few days.
That being said, following suit with my own approach to my workouts this week AND to counter the intensity of last week's Move It Monday exercise burpees, this week we are exploring the benefits of a simple yet beneficial stretch for the mind and body, forward folds. Or, as the yogis call it, uttanasana.
Why forward fold?
Well, first and foremost, it feels awesome! Forward folds are an excellent stretch for the entire posterior chain (backside of the body). As you release into a fold, you're stretching everything from your heels, up your calves toward your hips, along and down your spine and through your fingertips. Forward folds are an excellent way to strengthen and stretch the back of the body all in one calming move. They also are a great way to release tension in the neck and upper/lower back. If you're an office worker or sitting upright in a chair most of the day, a forward fold is an excellent counterpose to those long hours sitting at your computer.
Forward folds can soothe and relax your nervous system. Releasing and letting go of tension in your spine during a forward fold can help stimulate and release any build up of nerves throughout your spinal column. Relaxing the nervous system lets your body get out of fight or flight mode which can help the body relax overall.
When you're nervous system and body is relaxed in a forward fold, you'll naturally unwind and decompress which helps to alleviate stress throughout the body. This is an excellent way to reduce anxiety and depression. Will a forward fold be the end all be all to get rid of your anxieties? Likely not, however, a few minutes held in the pose can be a quick and easy way to calm the body without much effort.
How do you forward fold?
Forward folds are pretty straightforward but there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most benefit out of the pose. To begin, stand with feet shoulder/hip width apart, feet parallel facing forward with knees tracking over toes, hinge at your hips (not your waist), bend forward slowly lengthening your torso and roll your spine allowing your head, neck, shoulders to release and melt into a forward bend. Your goal is to bring your chest and belly toward your thighs. Flexibility is 50% genetic and if this is your first fold, you may feel a long way from chest to thighs and that's perfectly fine. As you work on the stretch, you'll gain more flexibility over time.
Keep knees straight if possible, but you can allow for a small micro bend in the knees if that feels more comfortable as your fold forward. Arm/hand placement is up to you. Personally, I love a cross arm hang cupping my elbows in opposite hands swaying back and forth ever so slightly. You can let your fingers hang just above the floor, grasp the back of your thighs or calves, rest on your shins or if flexibility allows place them completely on the ground. Once you've got the basic forward fold down, you can try one of my favorites, the wide leg forward fold. Same steps except your legs are much wider than hip width which may allow to you get a little more hinge in the waist.
You'll be in this pose awhile so continue inhaling and exhaling allowing yourself to settle deeper into the stretch. With each inhalation, lengthen your torso and with each exhalation release a little bit more into the position. Let your head hang heavy the entire time letting go of all the tension throughout the body.
Breathwork is important when it comes to any exercise but definitely key to a stretch like a forward fold. Focusing on your breath not only helps to further calm the body but it lets you release further and deeper into the stretch. Whatever you do, just don't hold your breath as you stretch. Inhale, exhale, lengthen, stretch, release and repeat.
Okay, now your turn!
Not so much a challenge this week but an encouragement to let go and fold. Let yourself hang in a forward fold for a minute and just breathe. Meditate a little and release any stress and tension in the body. Take just a couple minutes for yourself to release and unwind. If you have kids at home, encourage them to join you! Kids get wired and crazy. I know it, I've got two! So, pretend like you're all monkeys and just hang out upside down for a little while.
Until next Monday when we will pick up the intensity again, enjoy your forward folds friends!