It was 2009 when I first stepped into a yoga mat, first time I was even considering the option of joining a yoga class in the fitness club where I was a member. It was end of August, I had the saddest summer of my entire life. I had spent the previous 3 months next to my granny, walking her every day closer to her last breath. I was bathing her, reading her Gandhi’s biography, we never finished it, eating tiny bit of food, making those 5 to 6 steps around her bed to see her smile, caressing her hands while she was sleeping.
She was gone to the ‘“other life” at the end of August, I was still in this one, with the sweet samskara of her presence in my life.
I was dragging myself every day out of my house trying to find a bit of happiness and less loneliness. Where was I supposed to find all that? Entering in that yoga room meant a lot for me. I needed to quite my mind, I needed to reconnect with my body, remind myself that was still alive.
So here I was, facing my first forward bend in the first round of Surya Namaskara and while my body was folding down, in what I thought was like a flying pigeon in an effortless free fall, sure to be able to land my palms softly on the floor, like my neighbor old lady was doing, I suddenly got stuck half way down (!!!).
Taken by surprise I look down to my feet, my toes wiggling trying to reach my finger tips and my fingers trying to grow longer down to the floor, it was like my toes were screaming to my fingers “come down” and my fingers to my toes
“I am trying!!!!” …After few pushes I manage to just about caress the mat, hence I have instantly abandoned the option of poetically landing softly with my palms on the mat like a bird, and I opted for doing my best to get at least all of my 10 fingertips to touch the mat.
I glanced to the right and the aged lady had stuck her head in between her shins, bent her elbows, as if her hands had melted on the floor, and kept her eyes closed. In my head I was like: “are you kidding me??? who are you woman?? How do you do that? Tell me NOW!”
I swallowed my pride pretending everything was cool, and held my breath till next pose, because I was sure that if I was to inhale my fingertips would have come up and left the mat and I could not just do that!
Finally it was time to bring the right leg back!
Fast forward to 2016 standing and sitting forward bends are much easier for me now. I understood what was the secret of my mat neighbor at my first class, consistency and practice (beside a huge amount of flexibility in her DNA).
I stopped imagining to be an pigeon or an eagle landing quietly into a forward bend but I have managed to carve for myself a wonderful quite space in my mind when I am in a forward bending asana. My palms are on the mat, next to my feet in the Astha Pādāsana ( standing forward bend, the second posture on the Surya Namaskara) and my eyes are closed. Do I feel pain? I certainly do, but it’s not really pain. I do feel every inch of my legs, the tendons at the back of my knees, the sciatica nerve running along my calves, I feel my knees keeping my legs strong, I feel the edge of my feet on the ground and the body weight being equally distributed on them. I understood how to feel my whole back, stretching the middle spine looking gently forward and now I am using only the inhalations and exhalations to move deeper into the posture, relaxing the shoulders, the hands and mostly the breath.
Because, if there is one thing I got out of forward bending asana is that the mind is quietened, the breath is soft and the brain gets so much blood that, working with standing forward bends it is like working with inversions, in a much safer way.
From a therapeutic point of view forward bend are like the manna from the sky. Due to the strong influence these asana have on the brain and the mind they help to reduce stress levels and allow to manage, depression, fatigue and anxiety.
I will list a few forward fold asana and their benefits from a therapeutic point of view, to give you an idea of their vast application and use. Some of the benefits will be repeated simply because they belong to the same “group” of asana.
Astha Padansana improves digestions, it is used in therapy yoga with a variation of bent knees and it helps to reduce headache, insomnia, high blood pressure.
Marichyasana 1 is useful to reduce constipation, obesity and flatulence.
Janu Sirsasana stimulate the liver and kidneys, relieve symptom of menopause, helps with high blood pressure and insomnia.
Prasarita Padottanasana is good for headache, fatigue and mild depression.
Upavista Konasana which is used for arthritis, sciatica and detox of kidneys and many other asana, helps to stretch the hips, hamstrings and calves. A properly stretched hamstring and calves allow to increase the flexibility and strength of the spine.
In Paschimottanana,Traditional texts say that it reduces obesity, and cures diseases. Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings it also stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus.
Draping the body over the legs relieves tension in the upper body and also activates the abdominal muscles. While in the posture, the chest expands and contracts following the rhythm of the breath, it gives a wonderful massage of the internal organs mostly because it helps relieving the symptoms of menopause, asthma, insomnia & headaches.
As showed in the list above, in yoga therapy forward fold are often used to improve digestion and lower high blood pressure for infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis.
When working with students that need yoga therapy, each and every posture has to be taken and performed with different levels of difficulty, using useful and safe modification. It is not important to be perfectly aligned when working with yoga therapy. Who cares about the "picture perfect" asana. The most important point is to be able to hold the posture and to find that space, within the mind where everything is quite.
That is possible only by focusing on the breath. Have you ever tried?
It is about going deep, beyond the standard 5 breaths, beyond the sensation of discomfort. It is about "feeling" the body adjusting and healing from the inside. Healing is not done only on the mat of course, the asana mentioned above are just a tiny sample of all the options that are available to tackle any issue of the body, but there won't be any results, unless there is dedication, there won't be any solution if there is no discipline, there won't be any miracle but only will power and the desire to wanting to want to feel better.
As a consequence this often mean changing life style, eating, drinking and sleeping habits, together with all those ones, not mentioned here, that are deteriorating the health rather than improving it. So practice detachment form all those habits that destroy rather than reinforce.
Developing a healthy life style aiming to re-energize the body and the mind rather than indulging and giving in on any desire that might rise, should and must be the focus.
When reaching this state of practice, when it's clear that it won't be 5 minutes in a particular asana that will do the magic, but rather doing it with a certain consistency after having modify and improved our life style, then the benefits of the asana will emerge without a shadow of a doubt. Sadly, consistency and patience are two characteristic that in the modern world are hard to accept, people are used to take painkiller or opt for fast solutions for any type of problems, because we forgot to stop and listen to the body.
Yoga therapy works on a different concept and only if one is ready to accept it, the cure, the bliss and the solution will emerge.