The pelvis, the femur and the abdomen

Marichyasana B, left side, Dec 2020

Marichyasana B, left side, Dec 2020

Yesterday I had time to go through my anatomy books. One of the best is ‘Functional Anatomy of Yoga’ * by David Keil. Davis is a practitioner of yoga himself and he has profound knowledge of anatomy. I read the part about forward bending.

I think it can help to understand that what we call hips is the pelvic and the femur. This is the joint we move when we bend forward. That is if we move forward from the hips. It’s usually not recommended to bow the back to stretch forward in order to reach the toes with the hands in paschimottanasana for instance. With a rounded back the hip joint remains unmoved, yet the goal is to enlarge the movement of the hips. Another gaol is to stretch the hamstrings and further muscles that are involved.

It’s worth to have a look of the pelvic and femur. Many pictures can be found online. All pictures show that the hip joint allows to move the leg in all possible directions. I dare to say that ninety percent of the skeletons walking around on this globe are able to put the leg behind the head. Most of us have the potential to do this. Most of us only don’t try it.

Around the bones are the muscles. They might be strong and not stretched at all. That’s the work we yogis do. We stretch the tight muscles. and enlarge the movement of the joints.

David Keil also wrote that it makes not so much sense to engage the abdomen when bending forward because this causes that the back will create a curve. The goal is to keep the back almost straight. I always thought that I engage the abdomen to get excess body fat out of the way. But, no. Today I experimented. Engaging the pelvis floor has no influence on the back, yet engaging the abdomen has. It is counterproductive to what one wants in forward bending asanas.

David Keil’s book is an excellent reference.

Knowing the functioning of our body, our joints and muscles can be useful. It can build confidence. Knowing that the ‘hips’ allow to put the leg behind the head for most people alters the view on those asanas. The asanas are no more considered as extreme. These movements are within our possibilities. We must only exercise them.

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Forward bending asanas from easy to advanced

Baby pose is a very relaxing forward bending asana. It’s accessible for all of us, perhaps not at once. This easy forward bending asana can serve as a counter pose after intensive back bending. To put the arms next to the body makes this asana even more relaxing. With closed eyes and deep breathing also the mind relaxes.

All leg behind head poses are forward bending asanas. It can take decades to get there. These poses require stretched legs and a stretched back. Yet the hip flexibility is evenly important, too. To enlarge the hip flexibility is a further challenge. Many forward bending asanas have more than one challenge. They can have a balancing challenge in addition or they can be combined with an inversion. Stretching and opening the hips require time. We learn to become patient. There are exercises that prepare such asanas like supta kurmasana. I’ll write about it in posts to come.

Being able to bend forward is also a preparation for handstand. It’s good exercise for the vinyasa like floating forwards and backwards. In the above picture I shift my weight to the hands. I hope that one day my feet will leave the ground…Working on a stronger core could be a next step…….All these possibilities are a huge motivation to work on something that ‘boring’ like forward bending. :)

Yesterday I finished a page on this blog. It shows all the asanas of primary Ashtanga Yoga. Primary has mainly forward bending asanas. When one forward asana improves all the others profit from this progress as well. Applying a scientifically approved stretching technique can speed up the progress. To hold an asana longer than only five breaths, but up to five minutes can speed up the progress. Stretching can be done twice a day. To stretch only is not recommended. Strength training balances stretching. Holding an asana longer can be easily integrated in the morning practice. It interrupts the flow. I differentiate between learning sessions and performing sessions.

Today is Friday and the Ashtanga yogis practice primary. So did I. The vinyasa are the challenge these days. I got too weak. This is why next month I like to focus on the vinyasa…….

How do the masters do it?

Sputa hasta padangusthasana, January 2021

Sputa hasta padangusthasana, January 2021

To be a student of yoga and the same time the own teacher can be a challenge. It’s not possible to see oneself from the outside. Picture allow this and it’s worth using this tool. Often one can realize rather fast what needs to get improved. Some tinier things like thumbs who point in the air can be corrected at once. One can discover next steps to improve a pose.

By chance I flipped through the book by B.K.S. Iyengar yesterday. I saw him performing supta hasta padangusthasana. Wow. I know that this pose is challenging. I realized that I avoid the pose.

  1. I obviously tend to move my elbow away from the body. This is something that I could correct easily.

  2. Both legs are stretched. Als the arm that lies on the thigh is stretched. This gives body tension.

  3. When taking care of these things it becomes suddenly a challenge to lift up the body. I couldn’t reach the shin with my chin anymore. My abdomen are too weak. This pose strengthens the abdomen.

The posture on the picture looks so much better than my first attempts.

It’s a very effective method to take pictures of asanas. It goes a step further if one compares these pictures with the asanas of the masters.

As an autodidact or home practitioner one must learn how to learn.

A daily practice is only the beginning…….


Forward bending exercise, January 2021

Forward bending exercise, January 2021

Does this all make sense?

Is it worth doing it?

These thoughts are doubts. Doubts are obstacles. When creating a plan, doubts might be useful. Yet when the planning phase is finished, doubts are no more useful. They weaken and sabotage the plan.

My plan is to hold one forward bending asana for 5 minutes during my morning practice and I want to hold one forward bending asana for 5 minutes in the evening during a second yoga session. It’s a modest session with pranayama and relaxing. It’s to cool down and to finish the day.

What is a forward bending asana?

Not always this is crystal clear. Whenever the upper body gets closer to the thighs it’s a forward bending asana. Often a position is a combination of forward bending, balancing and twist. Only back bending and forward bending at the same time is not possible. The above asana is a clear forward bending asanas. There is no balancing part. The body is not twisting. Gravity supports the movement. Yet I also use the my arms to take my stretched legs closer to the body.

Again my question? Does this make sense? Especially when practicing alone the question might come up more often than in a yoga class, when a teacher is recommending an exercise. Teacher might be wrong, too.

How to handle doubts?

Experiment for a limited time. Doubts also come up because we don’t see progress at once. Yet stretching needs time. Perhaps progress is not visible at all after a view sessions, but a pose feels much better and familiar. Perhaps one could manage to breathe deeper than before. This is not visible, yet it’s progress.

Nevertheless it might be that progress is visible. Before and after pictures help to build confidence. They also motivate and can give hints for the next steps.

Confidence cures doubts. Firstly one gives a new method a leap of faith. After a while one can check if it was worth it. If yes, one usually becomes more confident for projects to come.

The method in question?

Hold asanas longer than only 5 breaths how we usually do it in Ashtanga Yoga. I want to hold asanas for as long as 5 minutes. Perhaps this cannot be done at once. To start with a holding time of 1 minute is perfect. Injuries are to be avoided. From here it’s possible to lengthen the holding time. I use an interval timer. After every minute I hear a sound. This structure helps to stay in a pose for five minutes, because it’s rather five times one minute than five minutes.

I’m sure that the method makes sense. It’s tested. It’s rather scientifically proved. Now I add my personal experience. I learn how to learn.

I’ll show other forward bending asanas that make sense to hold longer………

Do it every single day.

First practice - primary

Paschimottanasana, Dez 2020

Paschimottanasana, Dez 2020

Yesterday I prepared today’s practice with gravity training. This morning I stepped on the mat to practice primary. I had practiced during the holidays yet not every day. This morning I realized that we have already the 4th of January 2021. Many yoga challenges have started already. Diligent yogis have practiced already minimum three times. This makes a difference. Four practices is much more than one practice. Even worse, I felt behind. Kino offered a core challenge, cyogalife created a new demanding January challenge that started with handstand. There is Wednesdaywheel, Thursdayswesplit. I’ve still a handstand workshop in my inbox. Mentally I cancelled everything.

My topic in January is forward bending. This can be very challenging.

Forward bending asanas are part of all four Ashtanga Yoga series.

So why should we exercise to bend forward?

No other movement is so part of our daily life than forward bending. When we want to pick up something from the floor, we bend forward. When we tie our shoes we bend forward. It’s possible to avoid the stretch. I know people who sit on a chair when they put on their shoes. Over time this movement becomes more and more difficult till some of us will need help to put on their shoes. Many people gain weight which makes it even more difficult to bend forward. This is the sad truth.

My mother in law is 96 years old. In summer time she works in the garden every day. She bends forward with stretched legs to weed. At her advanced age she is able to put on her shoes, of course. We needn’t get stiff only because we age. Exercise is necessary. Exercising forward bending asanas will allow to stay independent.

This is huge. To stay independent when stretching and exercising. What is this bit of stretching discomfort in comparison?

Everything gets easier when slim and well-nourished.

To eat well and not too much makes a difference as well. Holidays are over. I had a plan and I sticked to it. I didn’t gain weight, which was a relief. Returning to our home we always return to a tiny healthy breakfast with protein (oatmeal and almond milk) and fruit. We still have lockdown due to Corona. I cook every day. I often prepare something raw, a salad for instance. We always eat vegetables.

Start a healthy diet or get back to your healthy routine. This is a good start of the year, whenever this is. I needed three days to be back on the wagon.

Nutruition and yoga (and exercising in general) belong together. Unhealthy food or beverages can sabotage progress.

Forward bending is the basis of many asanas to come. Also those who want to learn press handstand must be able to fold forward deeply.

Stretching takes time, so why not starting with forward bending?

First steps:

  • Clear the why?

  • Reflect on your nutrition and eat healthy and not too much.

  • Make a plan. Daily exercising is recommended.

I wish my readers and yogini a happy and intensive new year 2021. Let’s start.