The Seated Forward Bend Pose in Yin Yoga, sometimes known as the Caterpillar Pose is similar to the Yang version, however when held for 3-5 minutes, the therapeutic effects are enhanced.
than the silent balance
between yin and yang." ~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
No pose is as sweet a surrender as the seated forward fold. It is truly the queen of releasing poses. It has been one of my favorites for years, and doing it in the yin style, is not all that much different. While elongating the spine is de-emphasized, and a more rounded back is preferred, the main difference is the longer time spent in the pose.
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If you are a Yin Yoga newbie, you may first wish to read more about its concepts, and how the goal is to reach deeper, beyond your musculature to release the joints, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Please see my "What is Yin Yoga" article for more information.
Come to a seated position, with your legs extended out in front of you as shown below, in the first picture. This is the Staff Pose or Dandasana. Find your tall, energetic spine, as you lengthen the back of your legs. You may place your hands on the ground beside you to assist in the elongation. You may take an energetic, yang-like pose for several breaths, and strengthen your energy by adding a flexion of your ankles, to send your toes upward.
When you are ready to fold forward, do so from the hinge of your hips. If you don't know that you are tight in your hamstrings in the back of your legs, you will find out very quickly when you test this forward folding movement!
If you find your first edge is too painful, because you have tight hamstrings, you may modify this pose, by placing a folded blanket or a cushion under your hips. When you elevate your hips like this, you will be able to put less stress on the back of your knees and legs.
I have students whose hamstrings are so tight, that they can't fold forward at all, and their torsos are tilted backwards as they try to sit upright in the Staff Pose. For these students, I sit them up on a folded blanket, and I have them sit against the wall to support their lower back. If they still cannot tilt the pelvis forward in any type of fold, I place a small bolster under their knees. This takes off all pressure on the back of the legs. This modification allows just about anyone to be able to do this pose. If you still are unable, perhaps because of low back pain, just avoid the pose altogether.
When you have found your comfortable Staff Pose, without feeling an edge on the back of your knees, begin to fold forward at the hips. Use your hands to rest on your knees, your shins, or wherever they land as you fold forward. DO NOT PULL yourself into the pose with your hands!
You may continue to try to elongate the spine in the beginning stages, just sufficiently to keep you from compressing your diaphragm, as you move toward your first edge. You want to be able to breathe sufficiently to energize this pose, so that as you breathe into your legs and lower back, they will have the opportunity to open.
If you are unable to fold forward very far, just allow your back to round and release right away. You will not have to worry about compressing your diaphragm.
If you have not already done so, it is now time to release any active muscle contractions and/or elongations, and melt into the pose with everything. Release your legs, ankles, shoulders, upper and lower back to the utmost of your ability.
Once you have found your bearings, allow the weight of your torso to take you as low as you are able, until you find an edge that is appropriate to you and one which will allow you to hold the pose for 3-5 minutes without straining. Breathe deeply...
Do not judge yourself if you can only go a small ways into the seated forward bend pose! Yin Yoga is not about effort or striving, but about being present to exactly where you are and staying open to the possibilities!
Please remember to allow the weight of your body to provide the opening, not by pulling yourself lower!
If you find the sweet spot between your edges and the release, this pose will be so therapeutic for you!
The paradox of this pose, and the metaphorical life lesson, is that it is only when we release effort, pushing, pulling and striving, that true revelations come to us!
When we learn to accept what is, and surrender to it, it is only then, that opportunities avail themselves to us!
This is such a difficult lesson for us to learn. Instead of always striving to reach a goal, we must release into the journey itself.
There is no better way to learn this lesson, than with the seated forward bend pose. Allowing the earth to support you, while releasing your muscles to go deeper, you learn to stay with what is happening in your body.
The metaphor of resting in God/the Universe, while releasing your will, to allow your journey to unfold is a wonderful one. How spiritually lovely is this???
In addition to opening your body, mind and soul to your spiritual journey, you are opening the energy meridians of the Kidney and Urinary Bladder, according to Chinese meridian theory.
It is appropriate that the key element of these meridians is water. It is when these channels are open and healthy that we flow through life, like water, never attaching or getting stuck, but learning to live with the motion that is.
Blocked energy in the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder are due to the emotion of fear, and many conditions now may manifest if fear of change rules your life!
As you learn to "go with the flow," this seated forward bend pose will aid you on your journey.
In yogic terms, the grounding energies of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd chakras are flowing and releasing, reducing any blockages in this area.
May you release and flow with your own life's journey as you practice the seated forward bend pose. May you develop your own home practice, to free you of ego and effort, so that you may heal your body, mind and soul! You do not have to let fear rule your life! Namaste!
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