Here we are at the first of 3 separate leg, stretching poses. After completing the balancing series, we have effectively and efficiently warmed the muscles of the legs for a deeper, more therapeutic approach in this series. While this pose does continue to stretch and tone the greater muscles of the legs, we also start to enter into mild hip and back stretching. Primed, warmed leg muscles allow us the entry.
Begin by standing with your feet together. Breathe your arms overhead, allowing your hands/palms to touch in an overhead prayer position. Stretch up to the ceiling with a full inhale and take a big step out, simultaneously bringing your arm out to either side of your body like wings. Keep your arms straight, strong, and at shoulder height. Your step should almost be as wide as your wingspan to start (you can always adjust it later on in the pose).
Take another deep breath and begin to hinge forward from your hip joint. Feel free to soften your knees as you fold, and as needed throughout the pose. Once down, place your hands/fingers to the floor in front of you and give your body a few extra breaths to get used to the deep hamstring stretch.
Grab on to your heels with all 5 fingers. Take a nice hold on your heels and use your arm strength to help fold your body in towards your legs. Eventually your head and heart will drop in a direct line under your hips, leaving your arms holding this position with elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Once your body is sandwiched in as close to your legs as possible, it’s time to start straightening the legs to access the deepest and safest stretch for our hamstrings, hips and low back.
When attempting to straighten the legs, keep your body sandwiched in tight, neck neutral, chest open. Use your arms to hold this position, while you press your feet down and lift your hips high. The opposing movement from feet vs. hips IS what straightens the legs (eventually). Keep your thigh muscles engaged and only straighten as much as you can keep an even, smooth breath. Remember no pose is worth anything is you lose the breathing.
Slowly release the heels, reaching your arms back out like wings. Soften your knees, engage your abdomen and return to a standing position.
Standing Separate Leg Forward Stretching can help alleviate backaches, respiratory challenges, and even depression. Whenever we place our head and hearts below our pelvis, we start redirecting blood flow through the circulatory system. This allows gravitational pull and pressure to be lifted off the low back so the energy from the hips, pelvis, and back can begin to flow effortlessly. This effortless flow helps to rejuvenate intervertebral discs while reducing pelvic inflammation and hip pain. Ironically, opening up the hamstrings in a deep forward fold, actually funnels most of it’s benefits toward low back and hip health. Flushing the body’s blood in an “upside down” posture can also stimulate the brain stem, which helps to release “happy hormones.” So, those of you with lower back pain…focus on opening up your hamstrings! And those of you who may experience “the blues” every now and again, get into going upside down! There’s a reason we did these things naturally as happy, young children.