Ah, the almighty backbend

Upward Bow Pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana

I still remember the first time I was introduced to upward bow pose during my Ashtanga Yoga class last year. Lying on my back, I tried to figure out the pose by observing other students. All of a sudden, the young lady next to me swiftly pressed herself all the way up and stayed firmly in the pose. The way she powerfully rose up and held the pose like a majestic mountain left me with astonishment until today. What a beautiful pose with the perfect curve of a bow shape! If you ask me what is one pose that embodies strength and flexibility, this is the pose.

Benefits of upward bow pose

As a deep backbend and chest opening practice, upward bow pose, or commonly known as wheel pose, is helpful to improve our overall health in modern life. With long hours spent sitting at the desk for work or study, we tend to lean the body forward, drop the shoulders and hunch the back. This can lead to undesired consequences such as bad posture, muscle tension, back pain and restricted breathing. While the good practice is to keep your self-awareness in maintaining a good body posture, practising backbend to stretch the spine in opposite direction proves to be a good way to counteract the hunched or slouched body posture. Not only upward bow pose can improve spinal mobility, it also strengthens the arms, shoulders, abdomen and legs. You can also benefit from the energy boost by practising this pose. Spiritually, by opening the chest, upward bow pose can help to activate heart chakra which serves as our center of love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness.

Anatomical movement and muscles involved

  • Hip extension and adduction
    – Stretch all the muscles in the front side of the body by eccentric contraction (i.e. lengthening) of rectus abdominis, iliopsoas and quadriceps
    – Strengthen all the muscles in the back side of the body by concentric contraction (i.e. shortening) of erector spinae, quadratus lumborum and hamstrings
    – Concentric contraction of magnus, one of the inner thigh muscles
  • Shoulder external rotation
    – Concentric contraction of infraspinatus and teres minor (Note: Tightness of subscapularis can limit this movement)
    – Eccentric contraction of latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major
  • Posterior pelvic tilt

How to get into the pose?

  1. Begin by lying on your back. Bend your knees perpendicular to the floor. Make sure feet are parallel and hip width apart. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the floor next to the ears with elbows pointing up.
  2. Press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up. Keep your thighs and feet parallel. Then, firmly press the hands into the floor and lift your shoulders up, leaving the crown of your head on the floor. Keep your arms parallel.
  3. Press your feet and hands into the floor. Lift your head up off the floor and straighten the arms. Gaze at your nose tip or in between the eyebrows. Stay in the pose for 5 breaths.
  4. To exit the pose, bend you elbows and tuck your chin into your chest. Slowly lower down your body. Follow up with a counterpose such as hugging knees to chest or seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana).

Tips 

  • Splaying knees and feet to the side will compress the lower back. To keep your knees and feet parallel and hip width apart, try squeezing a block between your thighs or pressing your feet against a block placed between them.
  • Engage your core muscles by lengthening rectus abdominis to create airbag for the protection of lumbar spine. This avoids hyperextension of the lumbar spine in backbend.
  • Aim to open your upper back more. Draw your chest towards the wall behind you. This allows the arms to carry more body weight to allow a leg to lift in one legged wheel pose.
  • Practise wheel walks to build the strength and learn to transfer the weight into one leg then the other.

Up for a challenge?

Here are a few options to advance and deepen the pose:

  • One legged wheel pose
  • Forearm wheel pose
  • Transitioning from wild thing to wheel pose
  • Transitioning from standing to wheel pose and the other way round by walking your hands down or up a wall behind you

Safety precautions

Practise upward bow pose at the end of yoga practice when you have sufficiently warmed up your body and opened your muscles.

Do not practise this pose if you have

  1. Injury with knees, wrists, shoulders, neck, or back
  2. Heart problems
  3. High or low blood pressure

My journey with upward bow pose

Although the pose may look intimidating for a complete beginner, I started to enjoy practising backbend after a few rounds of practice. Not only upward bow pose reminds me of the strength I have within myself, I can feel the beneficial effects of back bending and chest opening shortly after practising this pose. I am able to naturally come to a good body posture with open chest each time after practising this pose. This is much appreciated by someone like me who is so used to being in hunched or slouched body posture. The good effects stay beyond the physical body. Mentally, I feel happier and with the chest opened, I feel my heart is opened as well. I feel like letting everything come and go freely. Like the big sky, every cloud is free to come and go. The sky is big enough to accommodate anything that comes, but in the meantime, the sky is willing to let each of them go when they are ready.

As for my experience of practising this pose, I had trouble with keeping my knees and feet parallel before. As much as I reminded myself not to splay the knees and feet, I tended to point them out when I was lifting myself up off the floor. I only realized my problem after having looked at the photos and videos of myself doing this pose. I would suggest students to identify any possible misalignments in your pose by taking a picture or video of yourself in this pose from different angles. From the diagonal top-down view, you can clearly see if your feet and hands are parallel and in line with each other. From the side view, you can see if your shins are perpendicular to the floor and whether you need to straighten your arms more and push your chest forward more. From the diagonal bottom view, this is how you will be amazed at the almighty backbend standing tall like a mountain.

Remember, flexibility comes with consistent practice. 

 

With love,
Wei Li

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

What is Urdhva Hastasana? 

It is literally translated to “Raise Hands Pose” aka “Upward Salute”. At time, it can be called Talasana (Palm Tree Pose) or Utthita Hasta in Tadasana (Mountain Pose with Arms).

To me, it is Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with both arms raise to the ceiling and palms together. It may sound like a simple pose but have you thought of the muscles you are engaging and how it benefits your well-being.

Benefit of Urdhva Hastasana

  • Reduces fatigue, anxiety and stress
  • Relieves back pain and sciatica
  • Realigns of posture when standing
  • Improves digestion and better bowel movement by compressing your digestive tract during stretching
  • Lubricates your joints better & healthier from the full body stretch (side of the body, spine, shoulders, armpits and abdomen)
  • Improve chest congestion by creating space in the lungs & chest during the stretch

How to move into Urdhva Hastasana

  1. Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet.
  2. As you inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and then up toward the sky. Both palms and fingers face each other, coming into prayer over your head. Straighten your arms completely, but do not lock the elbow joints.
  3. With an exhale, release your shoulders away from your ears to open the chest. Draw your front ribs in, toward your spine, and lengthen your tailbone toward the ground.
  4. Tilt your head back gently and gaze up at your thumbs.
  5. Hold the pose for up to one minute or 5 – 10 breathes. Breathe smoothly and it should be moving across the entire body. Lift up through the sides of your waist as you inhale. Soften your shoulders as you exhale.
  6. To release, exhale and sweep the arms back down to the sides of the body.

*Tips for beginner- You can practise the pose backed up against a wall. There will be a slight curve in your lower back but make sure your heels, buttocks, and shoulders touch the wall. Keep your head away from the wall, with your ears in line with your shoulders.

What muscles are you engaging?

Trunk

  • Erector spinae together with the muscles at the back helps to lift the spine and hold you upright.
  • Abdominal muscles together with the back muscle helps to support and balance the torso which draws the rib cage downward.

Shoulders and Arms

  • Lower trapezius depresses the shoulder downward.
  • Middle trapezius and rhomboids draw the shoulder blades towards the spine which helps to open up the chest.
  • Upper trapezius (back) and anterior deltoids (front shoulder) lifts the arm up to the ceiling.
  • Triceps straighten the elbows.

Pelvis and Legs

  • Psoas (front of the pelvis) flexes the thigh and glutei (buttock muscles) makes the thigh lengthen. The two muscles balance each other.
  • Muscle of the pelvic diaphragm are active to create Mula Bandha and tone the organs of the pelvis.
  • Quadriceps are shortened to straighten the knees.
  • Gastrocnemius balances the ankles on the feet.
  • Muscles on the top and bottom of the feet balance each other to ground the pose firmly.

My thoughts & experience of Urdhva Hastasana…

Urdhva Hastasna is a beginner standing pose involving shoulders, spine, knees and obliques muscle. When I practise and hold this pose after long desk-sitting time, I feel the stretch of my legs and elongate of my vertebra. This helps to relieve my stress, anxiety & back ache of long sitting. Not forgetting, it also improves digestion & bowel movements.

I feel the healing spiritually as it secures a connection with mother earth & allows free flow of energy. With that connection, it prepares me to move into other standing poses or deeper stretches/twists such as Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bending Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) etc with confidence and steadiness.

Try it and feel the power of this standing pose.

 

Namaste

Ivy Ng (July-2021)

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Simple pose but not that simple (at least for me)

When I came back to practice yoga in 2014 (after my first trial in 2009 and thought yoga is probably not for me), I only went for hot yoga. The reason was so simple – I didn’t feel good doing Downward facing dog! I felt very uncomfortable holding the pose and I didn’t know that I totally did it wrong. In fact, I just understand the correct alignment and do it better at Tirisula and especially during Yoga Teacher Training. With the correct weight distribution and alignment, I don’t feel bad holding the pose anymore!

How to get to the pose:

  • Hands shoulder-width apart, spread fingers wide.
  • Feet hip-width apart, toes point forward
  • Microbend the elbows
  • Relax the neck
  • Draw shoulders down along the spine. Shoulders are away from ears
  • Engage the lower belly and draw the navel back to the spine. Lengthen the spine.
  • *Squeeze and Lift the hips up to make the body as an upside down V shape* To me, this helps a lot to distribute the weight equally between hands and feet and this technique helps me to hold longer in the pose and can be rest in the pose.
  • Place the heels down on the mat
  • Gaze towards the navel

Terms of movement

  • Scapula depression
  • Arms flexion
  • Hips flexion
  • Ankle dorsi flexion
  • Torso extension
  • Knee extension

Muscles used for Downward Facing Dog

  • Stretch Gluteus Maximus
  • Stretch Latissimus Dorsi
  • Contract Abdominals
  • Stretch Pectoralis major
  • Contract Triceps
  • Contract Quadriceps
  • Stretch Hamstrings
  • Stretch Gastrocnemius and soleus
  • Contract Tibialis anterior

I hope my experience of getting into downward facing dog can be useful to someone. Enjoy the pose!

The widely known pose that can change your body.

Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This pose is widely recognized and it stretches and strengthens your ENTIRE body.

It seems like an easy pose, but not for me. Having tight hamstrings, I did not enjoy this pose at all. Since there are so many benefits to this pose, this must be integrated to my yoga practice. 
I’m happy to achieve better results with much practice and endurance!

 

Physical Benefits:

  • Strengthens the upper body (shoulders, arms, abdominal muscles).
  • Stretches the lower body (hamstrings, calves and ankles).
  • Increase blood circulation as your heart is above your body.
  • Improves your posture (opens your chest and shoulders, allowing you to straighten your vertebrae and align your spine).

 

Technique:

  1. Palms underneath the shoulders, knees under the hips on the floor.
  2. Press your palms, tuck your toes, lift your hips,
    straighten your legs to come up into downward facing dog.
  3. Press your heels and palms firmly to the ground, gaze towards the navel.
  4. Keep your head and neck relax, hold for 5 breaths.
    (You can keep your elbows and knees slightly bent)

 

Variation (for those who have injury or other reasons):
Place palms on the chair.

Muscles involved:

  1. Shoulder flexors, pectoralis and deltoids are engaged.
  2. Latissimus dorsi is stretched.
  3. Transversus abdominis and spinal extensors are engaged.
  4. Gluteus maximus are engaged.
  5. Hips flexor is engaged.
  6. Hip extensors and plantar flexors are stretched.
  7. Hamstrings are stretched.
  8. Quadriceps are engaged.
  9. Gastrocnemius, soleus are flexor hallucis longus are stretched.
  10. Ankle dorsiflexors are engaged.

Pigeon pose

The pigeon pose is one of the well liked yoga poses that helps release tension points and improve the mobility and flexibility in the hip joints. This pose requires particularly high mobility in the hip joint. Limited and improper rotation in practice can cause severe damage to the knee joint.

Anatomy to perform pigeon pose

Start on tabletop position and step one leg forward with the knee bend in between your hands. The front knee is bent in the sagittal plane. Take the foot away from the thigh to open the angle while keeping the hips square (pelvis neutral). it creates rotation In the hip and knee joints.

The back leg is straight and the foot is in plantar flexion (untuck toes). Keeping the pelvis in the centre and neutral.

The hands are placed on the floor to the sides of the knee. Maintain in this position and Inhale while the chest opens forward and upward, lifting the sternum, depressing your scapula. During elevation and thoracic extension, the back erector spinae muscle contracts and the iliopsoas muscles of the back legs are stretched.

Exhale and descend slightly with the pelvis in the centre and neutral without slumping to one side.

After a few breaths, bring the hands forward on the floor with palms facing down and rest your forehead between the hands. This movement integrates external rotation in the hip joint and flexion of hip. Muscles such as gluteus medius, piriformis, gluteus minimums, gluteus maximus are stretched and lengthened during this motion.

Students should feel the stretch only at the hip joint. One should get out from the pose immediately if there is any strain at the knee joint. Pressing the legs while applying force into the position is one of the most dangerous things in the pigeon pose and can lead to severe injury in the supporting ligaments of the knee joints. Never force or pressure a students to perform or stay in this position if they feel ache or pain in the knee joint.

In case of knee pain in the pigeon pose. One can try to reduce the angle between the knee and thigh to avoid or reduce rotation. Alternatively one can also increase the flexibility and mobility of the hip joint and hip rotator flexibility. Use a block or a blanket to elevate one side of the pelvis to maintain the pelvis neutral.

Yuj

Yoga, union of body and mind.

The thousands of journey begin with one step’ – Lao Tze. We often learn one or two ancient philosophy quote as we grow up and this particular one influences me the most because I wouldn’t have accomplish many things in my life if I was unwilling from stepping my first step. Too, I wouldn’t have start practicing yoga, struggle to grow stronger, wiser and finally understand practicing yoga is actually a path of self awakening for seeking truth, health and philosophy of life.

I can still recall how uncoordinated I was when I started yoga, back in my 30s. My body was stiffed, hard to bend and even difficult to breathe, at some points. I refused to give up and kept returning to the class because I have started my first step and I need to complete my journey. Gradually, I was able to stretch, bend deeper and hold the pose longer. After a year or two of constant practice, a question appeared on my mind, ‘what is the ultimate goal of all this?’ I spent some times to search for the answer and following that, I realised I need to look into myself. Because of practicing yoga, I have learned to focus, contemplate and change, not only the fitness of the physical, but also the mind and spirits.

The practice of yoga started in India many centuries ago and it was not until later, a rare enlightened master, the sage Patanjali compiled a collection of sutras on the theory for practice by synthesising and organising the traditional knowledge. The collection of sutras was named as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The sutras defined Yoga (Yuj) as union, or to unite. The union of the many selves of our own, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

Further explained in one of Patanjali’s sutras, to release the mind we need to follow the systematic methodology path, the raja yoga (king of yoga), also known as ashtanga yoga (eight limbs of yoga). 

In raja yoga, the first limb is five abstentions or outer observances, Yama. Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint and non-possessive. Second limb, five inner observances, Niyama. Pure, happy, discipline, reflective and devotion. Third limb, the physical posture needed for meditation, Asana. Fourth limb, controlled or suspended breath, Pranayama. Fifth limb, withdrawal of the senses, Pratyahara. Sixth limb, single-pointed concentration, Dharana. Seventh limb, meditation, Dhyana. And the eighth limb, liberation, Samadhi.

By understanding how simple a breath will affect the physical movement, how letting go some of the controls will enhance the balance, and how contemplate, adjust, change and concentrate will unite our inner spirits, we will one day able to liberate our mind and achieve infinite calmness. 

Going Upside Down

We should all turn upside down.

I mean, we should all do inversions for our yoga practice. It doesn’t matter whether you are going into a handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, Pincha or downward facing dog – It is a great addition to your practice for the multitude of benefits it brings. I would like to bring our focus to the headstand aka Salamba Sirsasana in this article. In Sanskrit, salamba means “supported” and sirsa translates as “head”.

Headstand is considered the king of yoga poses. It builds stamina, alleviates insomnia, reduces the occurrence of heart palpitations, helps to cure halitosis, strengthens the lungs, improves the function of the pituitary and pineal glands, increases the haemoglobin content in the blood, relieves the symptoms of colds, coughs and tonsillitis. Additionally, it brings relief from digestive and eliminatory problems when practiced in conjunction with Salamba Sarvangasana. Mentally, as inverting your entire body brings a rejuvenating supply of blood to the brain cells, it enhances clarity of thought, increases your concentration span, and sharpens memory. Consistent practice of this asana widens your spiritual horizons. This asana also helps those who get mentally exhausted easily. (2)

Normally, headstand is practised towards the end of a yoga class and functions to allow energy to flow towards your head, activating our crown chakra. While this advanced pose does require much focus, precision, balance and strength, this asana is essentially meant to be a resting pose. (3)

Getting into a headstand:

Kneel in front of a wall and interlace your fingers. Place your interlaced fingers down on the mat with the palms apart so you create a support for your head and place the crown of your head in your interlaced fingers onto the mat. If you’re unsure where, bring your thumb to your third eye in between your eyebrows and wherever your middle finger lands, that’s where the crown of your head is. Make sure that your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart and that your wrists are perpendicular to the floor. Shoulders should be protracted and rotated upwards. Cradle the back of your head with your hands firmly.

Next, lift your knees off the ground and straighten your legs and your spine. You will be in a modified dolphin pose with your head on the ground. Start to walk your feet as forward towards the body then lift your legs. The goal is to get your hips stacked over your shoulders. This is where hamstring and lower back flexibility comes into the game.

Once you feel stable, lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling. If you feel confident and have done it a few times, lift them both at the same time. Make sure that your body is in one straight line and there is no bent in the hips. (3)

Being in a headstand:

When you stand on your head, the first sensation you will feel is pressure—pressure on the crown of the head, pressure in the arteries and veins, and pressure in the soft tissues of the head and neck. And along with these comes more subtle aspects of pressure—the demand for maintaining your balance and the psychological urge to come out of the posture. These physical and psychological pressures affect every system in the body in one way or another: muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, immune, and reproductive. (1)

In headstand no muscle is in an eccentric movement, but every body part is either stabilizing or contracting. Ultimately, your body will be stacked in a single vertical line. Muscles involved in this pose are the trapezius, the rhomboid muscles, rectus abdominus, the levator scapulae, the pectoralis minor, iliopsoas and flexors, and the serratus anterior. It is important to strengthen them through regular practise of asanas and strengthen training. (4)

Contraindications:

Please do not practise this asana if you have high blood pressure, cervical spondylosis, a backache, headache, or migraine. Also, refrained from starting your yoga session with this pose if you have low blood pressure. Perform the asana only once in a session and do not repeat it – seasoned yogis can hold up to 5 minutes. It is best not to practise this asana during menstruation. (2)

 

Let me end this article with a quote:

“Sirshasana is really a blessing and a nectar. Words will fail to adequately describe its beneficial results and effects. In this Asana alone, the brain can draw plenty of Prana and blood. This acts against the force of gravity and draws an abundance of blood from the heart. Memory increases admirably. Lawyers, occultists, and thinkers will highly appreciate this Asana. This leads to natural Pranayama and Samadhi by itself. No other effort is necessary.”

— Swami Sivananda

 

Reference:

  1. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners-Body & Breath Inc (2017) by David H. Coulter
  2. The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Ivengar Yoga
  3. How To Do Headstand – Alignment, Anatomy, Benefits & Preparation by Joschi Monika
  4. Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition by Leslie Kaminoff

Dhanurasana – The secret to improve your posture

Dhanurasana - How to do it

It is usually translated as Bow Pose in English, with Dhanu meaning Bow and asana meaning Posture. When you are in this pose, your arms are like the bowstring, whereas your head and torso are the bow’s body.

 

In recent years, the popularity of science and technology heavily changed the way to communicate and work. People spend much more time using mobile phones and sitting in front of laptops etc. It dramatically impacted our body postures without us even noticing that—for example, hunchback and forward head.

However, many yoga poses can help us fix/improve this posture with practice. Dhanurasana is a good stretch pose to balance front and back groups of muscles.

Step by Step Practice

1.       Lie on your belly

2.       Exhale – bend your knees to lift your feet to bring your heels as close as you can to your buttocks

3.       Engage the posterior deltoids and the triceps to extend the shoulder and extend the elbows and grab the ankle.

4.       Inhale – Engage your hamstrings and gluteus maximus to bring the legs higher, at the same time depress your shoulder blades (trapezius and rhomboids) firmly to open your heart. Gaze forward.  Stay here for 5-10 breathes

Some tips to deepen the pose

1.       Engage the anterior tibialis muscles on the front of the shins and bend the ankle by flex the feet

2.       Engage the adductor longus to avoid the over-opening of the leg, to keep the legs parallel with each other

3.       Engage the erector spinae to arch your lower back

Benefits to the posture

1.       It stretches the pectoralis major and rectus abdomen to lengthen the front line of your body

2.       It strengthens the back muscle groups

Cautions

1.       Period

2.       Serious lower-back or neck injury

3.       Stomach surgeries

4.       High or low blood pressure

Anatomy of a Pose: Uttanasana

Uttanasana is a standing forward fold, which is considered very good for relieving stress and soothing the nervous system. The focus is at the shoulders and thighs. It is one of the most appropriate yoga daily pose for beginners and those who have no time for exercise.

Here’s the cue:

  • In Tadasana, standing straight with legs and feet together, erect spine, chest slightly lifted and hands to the side of the body. Exhale and bend from your hips, continue to bend till your hands touch your feet. (take a few breaths)
  • Shift your weight forward, slowly stretch your hips and bend further. (without straining the body)
  • Place the palm by the side of your feet and keep the knees and legs straight. If you can’t, you may micro-bend the knees OR grab the ankles or claves if you can’t place the palm on the floor.
  • Bring your forehead to your knees, close your eyes, and relax the body.
  • Take deep and slow breaths here.
  • As you retain the pose, gently try to stretch the spine further.
  • To move out of the posture, inhale and lift the palm off the ground. Slowly straighten your body keeping the neck down. Lastly, straighten the head.

Activating the muscles:

Pelvis and Legs

  • The psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris flex the hips and tilt the pelvis slightly forward.
  • The front part of the gluteus medius and the tensor fascia lata combine to turn the hips slightly inward so the kneecaps face directly inward.
  • The quadriceps, the large muscles down the front thighs contract to straighten the knees. The action creates reciprocal inhibition, relaxing the muscles on the back thigh (hamstring).
  • The thighs are drawn together by the adductor muscles on the inside of each thigh.

Trunk, Shoulders and Arms

  • The large band-like muscle on the front of the abdomen, the rectus abdominis, contracts to bend the trunk forward.
  • The lower part of the trapezius, which span the back, draws the shoulder away from the neck.
  • The front part of the deltoids moves the shoulders forward. The biceps bend the elbow, when the hands are fixed on the ground, these actions push the trunk deeper into the pose.

 

Common Mistakes: Make sure you fold from the hips not the waist or the back. A fold from the back will result in a curved spine that hands over the legs.

Benefits:

  • Relieve stomach pain and aids digestion.
  • Increase the strength and flexibility of the spine.
  • Stretches the hips, muscles of legs and hamstring.
  • Stimulates the functioning of kidney, liver and spleen.

Uttanasana

The Magic of Standing Forward Bend

I think most of us experienced a friend of ours asking to perform an asana when they first hearing that we are practicing yoga. At most circumstances, I would quietly fold myself forward to a standing forward bend (in Sanskrit, uttanasana) and surprisingly, this always does the trick and they started to acclaim.

For most people, the long hours of sitting in office or studies have slowly constraints the flexibility of their spine and hip joints, to bend forward and able to touch the toes appears to be an impossible task.

The spine, also known as vertebrae column is a part of the axial skeleton in the human body to maintain the upright posture and to protect the spinal cord, a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue. From top, the cervical vertebrae is connecting the skull to the torso, the thoracic vertebrae is the upper and middle back of the torso, the lumbar vertebrae is the lower back, the sacrum is at the hip, and lastly the coccyx is commonly known as the tailbone.

In between the vertebrae, there are intervertebral disc, or disc in short. These are the spongy cushions that separate the bones of the spine and provide shock absorption, keep the spine stable and give the vertebrae ‘gliding points’ to allow movement. Disc changes happen across our lifetime as connective tissues change with age, and the structures of the spine adapt to cope with the physical loads of daily life. These changes happened even in healthy people with no back pain and they are common age-related changes. The changes include disc bulge, narrowing of the disc space (loss of disc height) and disc dehydration. Overtime, the disc would develop from spongy cushion to a harden cushion if the persons are rarely moving their spine. To prevent the disc become harden, regularly exercising and stretching the spine is the key.

Back to the yoga asana, standing forward bend, a pose where we align the long axis of the femur and tibia bones with the direction of the gravity and allow the spine to elongate in a comfortable or effortless position. This asana help us in releasing the pressure on the disc that it sustains from long hours of sitting during the daily activities. It also helps to activate the movement of the spine. An active spine benefits the spinal cord and in result keeping the brain cells active.

     How to get in and out of the pose?
  1. Stand in tadasana, a normal and relax standing position. Feet together or slightly apart.
  2. On inhalation, tilt the pelvis and arch the lumbar. Grab hold on the side of the lower waist to feel the anterior tilt of the pelvis.
  3. Keeping the anterior pelvis tilt and on exhalation, slowly bend the torso forward, belly touching the thigh.
  4. Place the hands on the outer side of the feet, or holding on the back of the calves.
  5. Continue normal breathing in this intense stretch pose. Lengthen the spine in every inhalation and try to bring the chin closer to the knee in every exhalation.
  6. To get out of the pose, place the hands back to the side of the pelvis bone, inhale and slowly raise the head up and bring the torso back to the upright position.
  7. Relax the hands to side of the body and take a few breaths in the standing position to feel the benefit of the stretch.

What are the muscles that we are stretching on while in this position? Mainly we will feel like the pose is stretching on the hamstrings and the external rotators of the hips because these muscles are the factors that normally limit a person from going deeper into the forward bend if he or she has a tight hamstrings or hip rotators. Even so, we shall always try to shift our attention to stretch on the back muscles, such as erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius because the main aim of the pose is to elongate the spine. A healthy erector spinae muscle will help in preventing the spine from rounding when lifting heavy weights. The latissimus dorsi stabilise the lumbar spine and the trapezius will greatly influence the smoothness of the neck movement because it is an important shoulder mover and stabiliser.

For contraindication, a person who is having slipped disc shall avoid from doing this pose because the herniated disc may pressurise the nerve when bending forward and cause pain.