If you ever feel a warning twinge in your lower back when you are bending forward then it’s probably a good idea to listen to your body. Unless you can keep your spine in extension as you go forward, and bend from the hips, not from the spine then you may well be setting yourself up for a lower back injury.
This doesn’t just apply to yoga poses though. It’s also about how you use your body when bending forward generally. How many times a day do you bend down? How conscious are you of how you are doing this daily activity?
What NOT to do!
Yes, Jodee can touch her toes. But she has her knees locked and her spine in flexion (that’s the big curve you can see in her back).
How to bend forward and lift safely
Many of us are quite tight in the ball socket joint of our hips and find it difficult to “bend at the hips” without flexing our spine forward. So to change this, first bend your knees, be aware of keeping your spine extended as you go forward, and bend from the hip joint. If you take your weight back to your heels until your toes want to lift, and then push down through the heels, you will feel your spine is supported as you straighten up again. That’s your posterior chain activating and I’ll be posting more about that next time.
Improving hip mobility
In order to gain the level of mobility in the hip joint that is needed for everyday lifting and standing forward bends in yoga it’s a good idea to practise hip & hamstring opening while lying supine on the floor. Supta Padangusthasana (lying down hand to toe pose) is one of the best yoga asanas for hips, hamstrings and back pain that you can do without causing lower back injury.
I made you a video
I’ve created a 10 minute video (below) to encourage you to engage at a deeper level of release and opening in your hips & hamstrings by using your breath and gravity. The focus is on breathing while releasing the long bones of your leg downwards, allowing the attracting force of gravity to create a natural opening in the hip joint. I’ve added a PDF with written instructions that are bullet pointed to help you with your alignment in this posture, so I recommend a quick read of that as well.
How the stretch reflex can sabotage your pose
Be careful of over-stretching as this can tear muscle fibres and induce the stretch reflex in your muscles, so never force your hamstrings. The stretch reflex or myotatic reflex is a muscle contraction in response to stretching within the muscle. So if you have ever experienced your hamstrings feeling tight and sore after stretching them they may have actually contracted! For this reason I always recommend a gradual and gentle approach to opening up the hamstrings.
Before practising Supta Padangusthasana take a few minutes to lie on your back, relax, and connect with your breathing. Slow and deepen your breath. As you focus your breath into your lower belly and then even further down into your hips become aware of the subtle movement the breath creates in your spine and the gentle rocking motion in your pelvis.
What you’ll need
- a yoga strap or theraband (if you don’t have one then you can use a long belt, or a dressing gown tie)
- a low pillow under your head
- a quiet space to lie down on your back
“To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension. Tension is the result of will, effort, prejudice. We have been trained during the first part of our lives, to struggle, to achieve. Now we have to work in the opposite direction, by letting go, giving place to a different action (if we can call it action), an undoing action . This will stop the habitual process of doing which has become mechanical. There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most active of our attitudes, going with and not against our body and feelings. There is beauty in the acceptance of what is.” Vanda Scaravelli