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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tip of the Week: Lengthen Your Spine in Head to Knee Pose

If you focus on going deeply into a forward bend, such as the seated forward bend Janushirasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), and your hamstrings and glutes are tight, you’ll bend from the spine. The tailbone will tuck under, the upper back will round, and the backs of the knees will pop off the floor. In this case, even though you might still be able to reach your toes, you’ll be missing the true benefit of the pose. The goal of a forward bend is not, in fact, to “bend” but instead to fully extend and lengthen your spine while stretching the back of your body—your hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and spinal muscles—to the extent that’s appropriate for you. Although you don’t want to bend your spine in Janushirasana, there are three joints you do want to bend in the pose: the hips, the knee of the bent leg, and the elbows. Learning to bend in all the right places allows you to create length and extension in the spine.

Bending at the hip joints is crucial in any forward bend. It allows the torso to extend forward while the spinal muscles stay relaxed. Move your shoulders away from your ears, and lengthen your spine. From your knees, lift through your quads up into your pelvis, and use that to help deepen the flexion (fold) at your hips. Keep lengthening your spine and torso.

Having one knee bent in Janu Sirsasana makes it different from other seated forward bends. The action of bending one leg helps alleviate the pull of tight hamstrings and gluteal muscles on that side of your body. The added mobility allows you to extend the abdomen farther forward.

The final bend in the pose is at the elbows. When you clasp your foot and bend your elbows, the pull of the arms helps lift the chest upward, which lengthens the upper spine. And gently pulling the shoulders back helps maintain this extension.

Extending the spine and stretching the back body in a seated forward bend can have a calming effect. Practicing these poses can improve digestion and soothe the nervous system. You experience these benefits by practicing a progressive series of actions: stretching and releasing tension in the back of the body, bending at the joints with skill and attention, and lengthening the spine before folding forward. When you practice Janushirasana this way, not only will touching your toes become easier, but you’ll be getting the benefits of fully extending your spine and expanding your chest.

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