Oh, the little gems I pick up every time I go to the mat.
This week is like no other…
I’ve talked about forward fold and it’s “sister”, half forward fold in the past. I so frequently move through these postures that I’ve forgotten my initial physiological investigation (really?) from way back when. This week’s practice, again, shot me back to my thoughts on what is happening between these two poses.
Recall - okay - guessing you haven’t read the post before. Let me recap…
My hypothesis is that the half forward fold is used to activate the golgi tendon organ via Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. The hamstring stretch increases after each subsequent half forward fold as you move back into a forward fold. Still no answer to be found on my end if this is the case.
Nonetheless, in this week’s practice I was given the gift of another option in the forward fold position.
Adriene’s ("Beach Body Yoga") Balancing Ocean Flow was a sight to be had. The practice was located on a lovely patio looking out onto the ocean. Not clear where it was but absolutely a gorgeous view. If you don’t feel like practicing, watching the waves may be just all you need!
We worked through three variations of the half forward fold, primarily changing the placement of the hands:
1. The half fold with the palms of the hands on the thighs, upper arms parallel to the torso to find length in the spine.
2. The palms stay lower and rest on the shins. Still encouraged to lengthen the spine yet the arms are given more space and the hamstrings are taxed, or shall I say stretched a little bit more.
3. The final version is what left me to ponder even more. Adriene directed me keep the hands on the floor yet lift the hips by plantar flexing the feet or shall I say in more entertaining words, coming up on my tippy toes.
I almost stopped the video so I could keep trying the half forward fold from the tippy toes. I had never done this version before. Adriene alluded to the fact it was more of an ashtanga version so I’m left guessing it is more dynamic and thus likely found in an ashtanga practice. Not sure on that one either…
But it did get me thinking about my hypothesis above. AND it made me realize (duh?) that forward folds are not just about the hamstrings but the calf muscles too! Essentially, coming up on the toes contracts the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) and in effect the same mechanism of the golgi tendon organ is working. Contract the muscle to then relax and let it be stretched further in the full forward fold.
Care to chime in on my hypothesis? Feel free to leave any and all insight below in the comments!
I’ve got so many questions and a few answers. More to learn,
I've wonder for a long time about standing forward bends (Uttanasana) and it's "sister", half forward bend (Ardha Uttanasana ). Over the years, sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) have been a common and frequent sequence in my practice. Yet, I needed to know more about these two basic and fundamental poses in the sequence.
This week's practice included multiple forward and half forward bends and it got me to thinking, what is the role of these poses. Why do they both exist? Is it that the half forward bend is just for someone who has tight hamstrings or is there more to it?
As an exercise physiologist, my brain goes straight to what is happening in the body. As most sun salutations start with a standing forward bend followed by a half forward bend then back to the forward bend, my initial thought was the pairing of the two is for the purpose of stretching the hamstring. The method would be through Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. And more specifically, through the contract and relax PNF stretch. But is this the case?
My knowledge dictates that when stretching a muscle (i.e., the hamstring) and then forcing it into a contraction via the lift into half forward bend, it will then cause the muscle to relax via the golgi tendon organ (fancy name for a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ). The second forward bend is then able to move into a greater hamstring stretch due to the neuromuscular system reacting to the force of the contracted muscle.
The challenge was that I found minimal content online or off that supports my theory.
Is this what is actually happening? Educated guess or over thinking?
Nonetheless, the benefits of standing forward bends and half bends are not only stretching the hamstrings but it elongates the spine, stimulates the belly whereby it massages internal organs, tones liver, spleen, kidneys. It is also a pose used frequently as a rest between more strenuous poses.
So, I don't have answers to my query but interesting to dissect these poses this week.
Do you know the answer?
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.