Note: If only it was as easy as touching your toes! This is an extremely
important lesson, hence longer text than usual,to make sure you get the
fundamentals down pat from the get-go. Start with a strong foundation
to attain the loftiest heights! Practice carefully and sensibly. If you
hurt yourself, you weren't doing yoga!
Without training, when you bend down to touch your toes, as soon as
you start to stretch the hams, the low back starts to bend forward.
This compromises the disks and reinforces the rounding of the low back
caused by sitting in chairs. Your chances of having a hernia or low
back sprain-strain go way up.
We call it a ham stretch because you feel it where the hams insert
behind your knees. But what you really want to do is flex the hips
without flexing the low back. When you do this you will feel the stretch
in the hips as well as behind the knees.
In order to protect the low back, and the knee menisci, we recommend
softening (slightly bending) the knees when you do forward bends.
Stand up and stack the backs of your hands over the low back. Tighten
the hips (gluts) to make the low back flat or hollow, not rounded. Now
keep that curve stable in the low back as you bend forward carefully.
Notice how far (not very) you get before the low back wants to give in
and start to bend forward. Back up until you can re-stabilize the low
back and then soften the knees and try it again. Pushing the belly
between your thighs. (Lead with the belly not the head!) You should be
able to go much farther, even if you have to bend your knees quite a
bit. Try to bend forward this way until your hands are touching the
floor in front of your feet.
Let your neck and shoulders relax so your head dangles down. By carrying
your upper body weight on your hands and arms, you should be able to
work on alternate legs, carefully straightening the knee and then
bending it again as you straighten the other. Pay constant attention to
the low back so you don't let it give in! If it does, back up,
re-stabilize it and try again. Avoid sharp pain! Stay just inside your
It's OK to use a block on the floor to make it easier to reach. You can
even put your hands on the desk to do a modified version of this since
bending to 90 degrees without rounding the low back is extreme enough
for beginners! Work on keeping the whole spine flat or arching backwards
as you bend the hips forward, hands on desk.
Half-Dog Pose -video!
The key thing to get and own is how to be aware of, and keep, the low
back stable, with knees soft, when you do forward bends. If you do it
right it will actually feel really good, not like torture! You will make
progress faster and greatly reduce chance of injury.
Tight hams tug on the pelvis and cause rounding of the low back which
hastens degeneration and leads to low back pain, arthritis, even disk
If this is really difficult for you, be not discouraged! If you go to
your comfortable limit several times a day, and stay there for a couple
minutes, you will make progress most quickly.
Note: When you bend forward it is considered "normal" for the low back
to twist one way or the other. The problem is that we get in the habit
of always twisting the same way every time we bend. This is at least
partly why it is usually easier to bring your forehead to(ward) one knee
than the other -why one ham/leg seems more limber than the other. If
you can notice this subtle phenomenon, pay special attention to getting
it to twist the other way when you bend toward the tighter side. (Lead
with the belly!)
You can also do this sitting on the floor. Avoid the temptation to grab
your ankles or feet and pull. Try "pushing" your feet away from you, as
you "walk" your hips backwards, and see what happens!
In order to do the more advanced postures and exercises it is strongly
recommended that you master the head-to-knee pose first. Meaning knees
straight and forehead touching them, while you are still perfectly
relaxed and not straining or feeling pain!
Be gentle, don't force it. Learn that you can relax into the stretches
slowly by using just enough force but not so much that it causes the
muscles you are stretching to go into painful reflex contraction.
Trying too hard only slows you down because your body has to put so much
energy into repairing the (micro-)damage!
Forward Bending videos:
To understand what we mean by keeping the low back flat or hollow, and
stable, watch this!: http://yo9a.com/yogaclass/ashram/video/view/11
All videos. <http://yo9a.com/yogaclass/ashram/video