I have really been stressing the importance of doing a forward fold correctly in my classes recently. One of the top complaints I hear in ANY class I teach/take: yoga, barre, spin, circuit training, etc. is tight hamstrings.
Tight hamstrings not only lead to injuries in yoga and athletics, but can also lead to low back pain and low back injuries. Tight hamstrings pull the pelvis backward; which in turn flattens the low back, taking the natural curve out of the lumbar spine. If you think about it, most of us walk around with our tailbone tucked. Whether this is due to tight hamstrings, or it just feels normal – we’re shortening the hamstring muscle and flattening our spine.
In most fitness classes I take, a seated forward fold is usually somewhere in the stretching mix. I have to close my eyes, because it literally makes my back hurt when I see people rounding their back in a fold. Rounding the back brings the head closer to the knees, which gives the illusion of going deeper into the pose. In actuality, it just transfers the stretch to the back instead of the hamstrings. If you round too far, you can rupture a spinal disk, tear a ligament, or strain a muscle. Plus, it’s uncomfortable. Don’t do it. Please.
Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck in a standing and seated forward fold.
Standing. When performing a hamstring stretch, make sure your pelvis is in an anterior tilt (tipped forward) just slightly. Press your pubic bone back, which in turn takes your tailbone back and up. By doing this, you’ll automatically put a concave curve in your low back – this is a good thing. Pull your navel in to your spine, activate your core.
Now press down through the inner edges of your feet, and try to pull your feet away from each other. Try to rip your mat in half with your feet. Align your hips directly over your ankles.
Seated. You want the same pelvic tilt as the standing fold. Tilted forward. Since you’re on the ground it’s a little trickier to get your pelvis in the correct position. When you sit down, use your hands and pull your sit bones back. (Read: Take your right hand to your right butt cheek, pull it back. Take your left hand to your left butt cheek, pull it back.) If you have tight hamstrings, it’s much easier to achieve this tilt if you’re propped up on a blanket, block, sturdy pillow, etc.
If you can keep your pelvis tilted forward, remove the blanket and try it on the ground.
Check out my favorite hamstring stretches here.