Pose of the Month: One-Legged Forward Fold
Although Forward Fold is the “go-to” pose for tight hammies, consider One-Legged Forward Fold instead. Its focus on one leg at a time will give students the stretch they’re looking for!
Main elements of One-Legged Forward Fold:
Most Challenging Elements:
Rounding through the spine
Lack of hip hinge
Staying present with the pose as it is today, without expectation
Avoiding competition (with self or others) which often leads to overdoing it, and potential injury
Begin class with the Standing or Supine Warm-Up and a few Sun Salutations to warm the body. Throughout Mountain 2, explore poses that address lengthening the hamstrings as well as spinal extension to prepare the body for One-Legged Forward Fold. Include poses like Standing Forward Fold, Standing Splits, Monkey/Airplane, Downward Facing Dog (emphasize the hip hinge and spinal extension), Standing Big Toe, and Pyramid.
One-Legged Forward Fold
Once students are seated in Mountain III and you are ready to work into One-Legged Forward Fold, use these alignment cues to set students up for success. Have students create a strong foundation by grounding through the sitting bones. Then, bending one leg, allow that knee to rotate out to the side and rest on the floor with the foot resting against the opposite leg (kind of like Tree Pose, but on the floor). Encourage students to keep enough bend in the knee of the outstretched leg to allow for nice, tall posture (aka spinal extension). The ankle and foot on the outstretched leg should be engaged (ankle dorsiflexed, and toes spread out nice and wide). Now we’re ready to engage the pose!
Lift tall through the spine; this will feel like lifting the heart-center. Then, create the fold by hinging into the hips while maintaining length through the spine. This works best with arms staying closer to the floor. When reaching arms overhead to move into this pose, you will find that two issues arise. First, arms overhead creates too long a lever and students tend to lose their core support. Second, students become very goal-oriented and think they must grab hold of their foot with their hands. When this happens, the hip hinge disappears and you will see a class full of people with deeply rounded spines and hunched shoulders—and likely, not a single one actually stretching the hamstrings! Keeping the arms down eliminates both of these issues easily!
Props — aka Pose Enhancers!
Pose Enhancers can make ALL the difference in this pose! I find it best to give them out at the beginning of class. That way everyone uses them and no one feels judged for needing one or more.
First up — Folded Blanket
Having students sit on a folded blanket will alleviate tight hamstrings and allow for ease in spinal extension. When using and cueing for use of the blanket, be sure to have students sit on the front edge and let the sitting bones begin to “roll” off that front edge. This will tilt the pelvis slightly forward and create the environment for hip hinge to happen. If you see students rounding in the low spine, have them adjust themselves forward so they can find this slight forward tilt.
Another lovely way to reduce tension in the hamstrings and also alleviate any pressure or discomfort in the knee is to place a rolled blanket under the stretched out leg. Many students love this option to create ease in the pose, while also allowing them to stretch deeply.
How about that bent knee? If it’s rising up away from the floor, that’s ok! No need to worry about it at all. But if it’s uncomfortable, or a student feels tension because the hip is unable to relax, this can be easily solved by placing a folded blanket under that bent knee. Ahhhh!
Next — Yoga Strap
Using a yoga strap in Seated Forward Fold is my absolute favorite way to use this tool prop. Place the yoga strap around the ball of the foot. That way it lands on the strongest part of the foot, and the smaller bones and joints around the arch of the foot are protected. Then, hold onto the ends of the yoga strap with each hand. Keeping the arms and elbows next to the sides of the body, elongate the spine and begin hinging into the hips, allowing the strap to close the connection with the feet and provide a deeper stretch sensation. I find that this use of the yoga strap enhances the pose for most yoga students, even those who don’t think they need it!
There you have it! There’s no need for Forward Folds to be frustrating when they can provide a wonderful stretch and release of tight muscles. Using these alignment principles and cues to create the best possible set up for your students will keep them coming back for more!
What’s your favorite cue or prop for One-Legged Forward Fold? Let me know in the comments below!