If you spend most of your day dealing with other people, or if your job or student life requires you to retain a lot of information, you might know what it's like to feel mentally drained. Constantly talking to people, chasing after kids, or learning new information can be quite stimulating! But too much mental activity can also be overly demanding, making you feel tired, foggy-headed, and distracted. Yoga can help you soothe your thoughts, which will allow you to focus better and feel more energetic. Keep reading to learn about forward-bending yoga poses that will help you regain balance.
Benefits of Forward Bends in Yoga
Forward-bending yoga poses are particularly useful for calming your mind. As you fold your torso forward, relax your neck, and let your head drop, your focus naturally turns inward. Your breathing becomes calm, your heart rate slows down, and your thoughts settle. These natural responses relieve stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Holding a forward fold calms and soothes your body and your mind, restoring balance and equilibrium. In addition, forward-bending yoga poses improve your digestion and appetite. They also provide relief from insomnia, and can be therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, and sinusitis. When you return to your everyday life off the mat after practicing these poses, you may discover that you are more calm, centered, and serene.
Do not practice these poses if you are currently suffering from diarrhea. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this sequence. Students with back, neck, or shoulder injuries, and those with degenerative disc disease, should only practice these poses under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
Practice these poses 3-5 times a week. It should take about 15 minutes to complete all of the poses. Take it slowly. Never force your body into any position. If you feel any sharp, pinching, or jarring pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest. Always keep in mind these general guidelines when practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
The word “stress” comes from the Latin word "stringere," which means "to draw tight." Practicing yoga can help you stretch out, both mentally and physically!
Sometimes called "Simple Cross-Legged Forward Fold" — Adho Mukha Sukhasana (AH-doh MOO-kah soo-KAHS-uh-nuh) — this pose calms the mind while stretching the shoulders, back, hips, knees and ankles.
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket, crossing your legs in front of you at the shins. If your hips are very tight, you can sit on a bolster or block.
- Balance your weight evenly across your sit bones. Align your head, neck, and spine. Lengthen your spine, but soften your neck. Relax your feet and thighs.
- Reach your arms up overhead, lengthening your spine.
- On an exhalation, slowly bow forward with your arms still extended. Rest your arms, hands, and forehead on the mat. If your forehead does not touch the mat, bend your elbows, stack your hands, and rest your forehead on your hands. You can also rest your forehead on a pillow or bolster.
- Hold for up to five minutes.
- To release, use your hands to walk yourself back to an upright, seated position. Change the cross of your legs and repeat the pose.
Head-of-Knee Pose — Janu Sirsasana (JAH-noo sheer-SHAH-suh-nuh) — stretches the hamstrings, groins, and spine. It also calms the mind, relieving anxiety, fatigue, and mild depression.
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket with your legs extended in front of you. Bring the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right thigh.
- Align the center of your torso with your right leg (a mild twist). Keeping your spine long, exhale and hinge forward from the hips to fold over your right leg. Imagine your torso coming to rest on your right thigh rather than reaching your nose toward your knee (so, bend at your waist). Draw your right thigh down and flex your right foot.
- Hold onto your right leg’s shin, ankle, or foot. You can also wrap a yoga strap or towel around the sole of your right foot, holding it firmly with both hands.
- Keep the front of your torso long; do not round your back. Let your belly touch your thigh first, and then your chest. Your head and nose should touch your leg last.
- With each inhalation, lengthen the front torso. With each exhalation, fold deeper.
- Hold for 30 seconds. To release the pose, draw your tailbone toward the floor as you inhale and lift your torso. Extend your left leg. Then repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Traditional yoga texts say Seated Forward Fold — Paschimottanasana (PAH-shee-moh-tun-AHS-uh-nuh) — can cure disease. Modern yoga teachers agree this calming forward bend, literally translated as "Intense West Stretch," helps to relieve stress and reduce fatigue. It stretches the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. Additionally, it is reputed to be therapeutic for high blood pressure and infertility. Do not perform this pose if you have a back injury.
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket with your legs extended in front of you. Beginners should bend the knees throughout the pose, straightening the legs only as flexibility increases.
- Inhale as you reach your arms out to the side, and then up overhead, lengthening your spine.
- Exhaling, bend forward from the hip joints. Do not bend at the waist. Lengthen the front of your torso. Imagine your torso coming to rest on your thighs, instead of tipping your nose toward your knees.
- Hold onto your shins, ankles, or feet — wherever your flexibility permits. You can also wrap a yoga strap or towel around the soles of your feet, holding it firmly with both hands. Keep the front of your torso long; do not round your back. Let your belly touch your legs first, and then your chest. Your head and nose should touch your legs last.
- With each inhalation, lengthen the front torso. With each exhalation, fold a bit deeper.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, draw your tailbone towards the floor as you inhale and lift the torso.
4. Child's Pose
Often used as a resting position, Child’s Pose — Balasana (bah-LAHS-uh-nuh) — helps to stretch the hips, thighs, and ankles, while also reducing stress and fatigue.
- Start on your hands and knees. Then spread your knees wide while keeping your big toes touching.
- Exhale as you bow forward, letting your torso drape between your thighs.
Keep your arms long and extended. Place your forehead on the floor. Then bring your arms to rest alongside your thighs, with your palms facing up.
- If your forehead doesn’t touch the floor, bend your elbows and stack your hands or fists, providing support for your head. Let go of any neck tension.
- Hold for up to one minute or longer, breathing softly. Then, gently press yourself up into a seated position.
Fold to Release
Seated forward folds can be a gentle way to calm your mind, bringing feelings of safety and serenity. They will help slow your breathing and your thoughts. Practicing these poses at bedtime can prepare you for deeper relaxation and sleep. Practiced in the morning, this sequence can help you transition into your day with focused energy. Regularly integrating forward bends into your day will help you create peace and well-being in all aspects of your life.