Thierry Giunta takes us through Wide-angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana).
Wide-angle Seated Forward Bend is a great hip opening exercise. It is ideal to increase hip mobility and hamstring flexibility. It is also good for strengthening the back and improving posture as the starting point of this pose should be a perfect upright upper body position. I have chosen to perform this asana using the BeamBlock because the elevation element adds an additional flexibility challenge in the groin area. The process of bending forward beautifully demonstrates the importance of keeping the body and mind connected during your practice, to develop greater body awareness and maintain good technique. A powerful, soothing and therapeutic experience and a lovely pose to include in your daily practice.
If you can, try to avoid bending the spine. Most people have tight hips and short hamstrings which limits their ability to bend forward. This often results in curving the thoracic spine in an attempt to compensate for the lack of mobility in the hips and to reach further forward. A forward bend is facilitated by hip movement and hamstring flexibility only. The spine plays a very small part in a forward bend. As your hips become gradually more flexible, your pelvis will tilt forward more easily. The tilting of the hips is essential to the forward bend movement. The spine is attached to the hips so when you are ready to tilt forward the spine will follow in the same direction. Your spine will not curve anymore as it does not need to. If your hips are tight, a good alternative would be to remove the forward bending element of the pose and keep the spine upright. You may want to use your hands and arms to assist you if need be.
- Keep your thighs engaged
In the wide-angle seated forward bend pose, the muscle working on the opposite side of the stretch is the quadriceps. The quadriceps must be kept active throughout the duration of the stretch. This means they should be fully contracted. Contracting the quads while stretching your hamstrings will help you to deepen the stretch and improve hamstring flexibility.
- Improve the quality of your hamstring stretch
The hamstrings consist of three main muscles, the Biceps Femoris muscle, the Semitendinosus muscle and the Semimembranosus muscle. To achieve a deeper hamstring stretch, rotate your legs outwards from the hip joint. When rotating the legs, the knees should be kept locked and facing upwards as much as possible. Rotating the legs while bending forward will ensure all three hamstring muscles are stretched and challenged in equal measure.
- Use your feet
Your feet play a very important part when stretching your hamstrings. In a seated forward bend the best way to ‘switch on’ the hamstrings is to flex your ankle joint (dorsiflexion). This will activate the lengthening of the hamstrings from the extremity of your legs. A dorsiflexion is best achieved when the heels push outwards and the toes point upwards. The quality of your stretch can be improved drastically by just engaging your feet when stretching. It is as simple as that.
- Use your breathing more effectively
Most yoga poses are usually held for a minimum of five breaths. One breath equals one inhalation and one exhalation. When holding this pose, use the exhaling phase of the breath to actively contract your quads and stretch your hamstrings simultaneously. Holding a pose for five breaths means you have five opportunities to exhale. Each exhalation should help you to improve your technique and take you deeper into the stretch.
The wide-angle seated forward bend is a very interesting pose that highlights two of the biggest challenges people have when they do yoga: hip mobility and hamstring flexibility. The hamstrings are directly connected to the hips so if your hamstrings are tight, your hips will also be tight. The good news is that the body adapts very well to change so with a bit of guidance and help from your teacher you should be able to see improvements soon. If you are practicing this pose at home and without the supervision of a teacher, try and apply the tips mentioned above. Enjoy your practice.
Find more Man on the Mat poses here.