Bending toward the ground is a movement we habitually make. We have all developed our own ways to do this: a pattern. How do you ensure bending in a way that is anatomically justified? In part 6 of the anatomy section in Yoga Magazine, Gert van Leeuwen explains how to keep your back stable when bending forward.
Picking up something, bending down, reaching forward, lifting a child or a crate full of groceries… Bending forward is a movement we often make. This can complicate the forward bend as a yoga exercise, it’s an ingrained pattern after all. If we have to lift something heavy, we bend forward, grab it and pull it up. We often do this with ‘kinks’ in our backs, which is why so many people strain their backs: kinks cause instability. In forward bends in yoga, we also bend forward to grab our feet and ‘pull’ at them, which is actually the same movement. So how do we keep our backs stable when bending forward?
This happens in two phases: first, you have to stretch (hollow) your lower back. When stretched, your lower back’s middle line develops a force that extends to your pelvis. This force comes from the postural muscles that lie against your vertebral column. And, like in a reflex, that force activates the transverse abdominal muscle in the front of your body. This is a muscle that feels like an inner tube because it slightly bulges up your stomach. Try not to lose that rounded shape of your stomach when bending forward, otherwise, your lower back will lose its strength. It feels like using your stomach as padding when pushing it against your legs. As long as that takes place, your deep postural muscles and large back muscles will collaborate properly, ensuring the safety of your lower back. If you grab and pull at your feet or legs during a forward bend, you have to move closer towards your thighs. When done correctly, you strengthen your lower back, even if it’s still slightly bent.
If you don’t do that, but instead pull your shoulder to your neck, you will make your lower back ‘unsafe’. The transmission of movement in your lower back ends in your pelvic floor, in your hips. Once there, you can stretch your hamstrings. Do not force this movement: approach your hamstrings from a resting position by breathing into your stomach.
Critical Alignment Yoga props like the roll can help you to reach parts of your body that are hard to reach by yourself, even in yoga postures (asanas). By using the pressure of your body weight and gravity, combined with proper breathing, you can relax the muscles of your lower back again, thus restoring mobility in your vertebrae.
Are you interested in yoga and would you like to experience the benefits of yoga yourself? You can! Sign up for a trial class at Yoga Ommen and discover what yoga can do for you! The exercises are easy to learn and (with a bit of practice) can also be done at home. Gert van Leeuwen is the founder of the Critical Alignment Yoga and Therapy Institute. Irene Vos was trained by this institute as a Critical Alignment Yoga teacher and a Critical Alignment Yoga therapist.