You want to get clear what the intention is with them as soon as you can. If not, The Primary Series is not only ineffective but incredibly dreary as we constantly dull our mind and literally close down our awareness in the attempt to get more ‘ ‘sandwiched’ together.
A forward-fold can be used to overstretch the hamstrings and pull-on and destabilise the lower-back; or, it can be used to mobilise the spine; articulating and freeing the muscles of the upper-back, as well as toning the abdomen.
A clue is in the name of the opening forward fold of The Series; ‘paschimatanasana’. This translates as ‘West-faced back-stretch’. So, envisaging that we traditionally practise Yoga to the East, we are pulling-back – away – from our legs to the West, rather than pulling onto them.
For this reason, we want take care with two particular details:
- To ‘tuck the tailbone’. In other words, make sure there is a posterior tilt of the pelvis, rather than the ubiquitous self-adjustment you see; the pulling the flesh of the but apart and back.
- A stretch forward through the front of the legs. That is, opposed to flexing the toes and pulling up on the knees. This will tighten the lower back and potentially cause hamstring problems. More importantly, the student then can’t obtain the crucial action of pulling-back against the legs to contact the fundamental spinal-work.
A forward-fold worked with skilfully brings the back into an undulating movement, within the shape of the position. Essentially we are, again, not worried about the ostensible ‘depth’ of the shape; rather, attempting to produce this oscillating quality of the back between flexion an extension.
This ‘ripping’ movement through the spine causes the all-important scapula (shoulder blade) mobilisation. This is, however, only achieved ultimately by a subtle understanding of how breathe and ‘bandha’ (stomach-lock) work together. As the diaphragm pulls-down on the inhale, then up-and-in on the exhale it causes the feeling of ‘looking’ the shoulder-girdle with the change of action in opposing directions.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with rounding the back, it needs to move in both directions. We are looking for a fluid spine, not one rigid, stuck in position through an over-stretching. You want to be able to bend forward as much as you can back. Or at least get up and sit down with ease! If this is not the case, it may be as much to do with the way you are forward-folding as much as your backbend.
I recommend catching the sides of the feet in a forward fold, that is, instead of the wrists. It enables one better to pull the shoulders and their related muscles ‘back and down’. In contrast to this, when we take the wrists, the shoulders tend to hunch into the neck producing a tightness of the upper-back which also means our lifting in the jump back/thru usually is negatively impacted.