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9 Physical & Psychological Benefits of Forward Folds

9 Physical & Psychological Benefits of Forward Folds

In some ways, each family of yoga postures has their own unique personality and set of benefits. While there are countless poses and variations, there are some overarching categories of yoga poses, or families, and they include backbends, twists, inversions, balancing poses, arm balances and forward folds, amongst others. These groups of postures each have their own set of benefits physically, psychologically and energetically.

Each family of poses make us feel a different way.

You will feel quite different leaving a class where you've done predominantly twists, versus a yoga class designed around arm balancing. Physically, you'll work certain parts of the body more and energetically, each pose also has a unique effect on our mind and mood.

Forward bends, also called forward folds, are yoga postures where you hinge forward at your hips. There are many forward folds, both standing and seated, that are commonly practiced in various forms across all styles of yoga. Common forward folds in yoga include, Paschimotanasana, Uttanasana, and Prasarita Padotanasana. 

What makes these poses unique? Let's take a closer look at these postures and their power.

There are certain effects that forward folds are better at achieving, than any other type of yoga pose. Let's take a look at why this family of yoga poses is special.

1. Open the Entire Backside of your Body

Physically, forward folds stretch, strengthen, and benefit the entire backside of your body from your heels to your scalp. The back of your legs, the back of your back, and the back of your neck and head, get the spaciousness and release they crave, when you spend several breaths in a deep forward bend. 

While backbends open the frontside of your body, forward bends open the backside and generally create length throughout. Physically, this improves posture and helps you stand taller. Your back is the receptive side of your body, so opening here can make you more receptive to the things you desire to receive in life. Treat yourself and bow inwards toward yourself in these potent yoga poses.

2. Take a Look Inside

Energetically, forward bends are about looking inwards. You can see this symbolism, by simply looking at the shapes. You literally gaze in, towards yourself, when practicing a forward fold in yoga. These are all postures where you're also looking inwards and your mind has a chance to examine itself.

The personality of forward folds, is introverted.

Poses like backbends are more extroverted (think about the body opening and expanding, versus folding in). Their cooling, calming effect, complements the sometimes chaotic pace of modern life where we're often responsible to attain to things outside of ourselves like family, work, and home space, to name a few. 

3. Calm Down: Anxiety relief

Forward folds calm you down. They are cooling, reduce anxiety, and have a calming effect on the mind. If you ever feel stressed out or anxiety is getting the best of you on a given day, give yourself even 1-minute to relax into a forward fold, and you may feel a welcome reset. 

Your nervous system gets a soothing effect from a forward fold. Remember to take deep breaths while practicing these bends to combat anxiety and create space for more calm. 

4. Relieves Back Pain

Back pain in the lower back is often caused by tightness in the hamstrings. Opening both your legs, and your back, in these yoga poses has double the effect in preventing and alleviating back pain. Even one forward fold per day, can make a massive difference in healing your back pain

If you suffer from back pain, be sure to keep your legs engaged and strong while performing a forward fold, to most effectively release your hamstrings and lower back. If you feel tight in your legs and lower back, be patient, go slow, and use props, like blocks, to support you as your body is ready to open into these shapes.

5. Healthier Organs

Various standing forward folds are partial inversions (seated ones generally are not). These are postures where the head and heart are in a position lower than the hips. Going upside down and reversing the flow of gravity on your most vital organs, gives them an energetic flush and can increase their vitality. The heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and intestines all benefit, from having gravity reversed on them, via an inversion. 

The simple forward fold, Uttanasana, is a perfect pose to take 5 breaths in, and give your organs a boost in their efficiency. To emphasize this benefit more than the effect on your legs and take a more passive approach, bend your knees for a ragdoll expression of a forward fold.

6. Throat and Neck

Neck pain is becoming more common in the age of computers, driving, and texting. Relaxing your head and neck in forward bends, creates space in the neck and brings it back into optimal alignment. Putting your body upside down, gives your head and neck a chance to lengthen and unwind. 

7. Patience

Progress in forward folds, takes time. Sometimes a very long time!

If you feel like you've been practicing yoga for years and can barely touch your toes without struggling, you are not alone. Your body opens at the pace it wants to. Forward folds teach us to be patient, and enjoy the journey. Breathe, be patient, and relax more into postures, instead of trying to force yourself. Being patient can make life more enjoyable, so yoga's a good place to start practicing this trait.

8. Getting Comfortable in Discomfort

The lessons from practicing yoga poses, are often fitting metaphors for life. Forward folds are not always the most comfortable poses, but reap tremendous benefits.

Sometimes to grow in life, we need to make ourselves uncomfortable. Sometimes, scary things like a new job, a new relationship, a big move, or anything else that puts us outside of our comfort zone, can feel unwelcome at first, but end up being the best things we could have done. 

Getting uncomfortable and leaning into the unknown in life, is sometimes a recipe for change, adventure, and progress. Same with spending 10 breaths in a deep forward fold that doesn't exactly feel comfortable. It might not always be easy, but you may discover new things about yourself in the process that have true value. 

9. Reduces Wrinkles

Inversions reduce wrinkles in your face by reversing the flow of gravity. While your skin is technically an organ and related to benefit #5, this benefit is so good, it deserves it's own category. Since forward folds are partial inversions, spending time with your head upside down, is your fountain of youth and will keep you looking younger. 

Whichever of these benefits excites you the most, know that even one forward fold per day has the potential to create positive change in your life. Find out for yourself, and practice yoga for your legs, hips, spine, and mental health.

By Keith Allen

Keith is a teacher on and teaches yoga internationally. Connect with him by practicing his yoga and meditation classes on YogaDownload, or connecting with him on Instagram or his website.

Practice forward folds and hip openers right now with Keith!

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