It's interesting how a theme starts up.. in both my Thursday classes last week, people asked me why it was they can't fold forward at the hips. It interested me as of course there is no one clear answer. It can be a myriad of different tightnesses in people's bodies - tightness in the hips, the back, the hamstrings. It's only by exploring each of these areas in different poses that we begin to discover in ourselves what can lengthen a little, and by practising regularly, perhaps begin to see a change. But it brought me back to the thing I hear most often about yoga from beginners who say 'But I can't even touch my toes'.
Forward bends themselves can take on a variety of forms - standing forward bends, seated forward bends, keeping the back straight, rounding the back, folding from the hips - each has its own benefits and each has its own place in the forward folds family..
But I recently discovered a really interesting experiment that it might be fun to try.
Stand with the feet hip distance apart. Lengthen the tailbone toward the floor, and the crown of the head toward the ceiling. Inhale. As you exhale, soften and empty the belly and roll down in a forward bend and let the crown of the head point down toward the floor. Let the neck be long. Just notice how far you come.
Now take a tennis ball. Place it under the left foot and roll it around under the foot pressing down as hard as is comfortable. Meanwhile massage all the muscles around your jaw. Press as hard as is nice - it can be very sore massaging the jaw as we often hold a lot of tension here. Swap the tennis ball to the right foot, and keep meanwhile massaging the jaw. Do each side for a minute.
Stand back on the mat, with the feet hip distance apart and repeat the forward fold we tried at the beginning. Notice any difference with how far you fold?
The interesting thing is that the whole of the back of the body is connected. From the soles of our feet through the back of the legs, back of the hips, the back itself, the neck, the head. The jaw is also connected to these fascias which run through the back of the body. By loosening just those two areas, the soles of the feet and the jaw, maybe you already noticed a difference and were able to fold further. While each individual will have their own places which are tight and they won't feel they're folding as far as they want to be able to, doing small practices like the one described above can begin to loosen the back of the body and all its fascias.