Forward folds tend to be calming for most of us. Our energy and attention goes inwards and we’re able to tune into our own breath, thoughts and feelings.
Dr Herbert Benson, the cardiologist (still lecturing around the world in his 90s), recommends choosing a quality you want more of in your life and simply inhaling this quality and exhaling this quality.
His research in the 1960s and ’70s (you might want to read his delightful book, The Relaxation Response) found that people around the world have ways of accessing the body’s natural healing mechanisms and antidote to the fight/flight response (which had been discovered in the same Harvard lab by Walter B Cannon decades earlier).
While yoga, different forms of meditation all help, his favourite was to simply choose a quality and use it like a mantra. Of course your mind will wander several times during the 3+ minutes but each time you notice it, you can bring it gently back to …. peace … love … joy … purpose … healing or whatever quality you’ve chosen.
The reason poses like this work is that the sensations in the back of the legs help keep us grounded and embodied so less likely to lose focus.
Of course, some people hate forward – if you endure rather than relax into such poses, don’t hold it for 3 minutes as you won’t be relaxed enough to get the Relaxation Response benefits. Instead, think about the poses you like best and ponder holding one of them for 3+ minutes.
But if you’d like to try, sit with your legs outstretched in front of you, maybe ponder your quality a little in advance. Raise your arms overhead and reach for the wall in front of you, maybe imagining yourself reaching for this quality.
Let your hands rest wherever feels best. This is about relaxation, not endurance. Even if they’re above the knee, you’re still benefitting from this forward fold. Maybe they reach your calves or ankles or you can clasp your hands around the soles of your feet.
Experiment with the degree that feels best for you. During the 3+ minutes, you can go more deeply into the pose or come out of it a little. Honour your own body’s wisdom.
Have you tried it?
What helped you?
Have you tried other methods of entering the Relaxation Response? What are your favourites?
Feel free to comment below.
IF YOU’RE NEW TO YOGA AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THESE POSES, GO TO A YOGA THERAPIST OR INSTRUCTOR. IF YOU’RE NEW TO EXERCISE, CONSULT YOUR GP BEFOREHAND. ALWAYS HONOUR YOUR BODY’S OWN WISDOM