How to improve your Forward Fold

Forward Fold (Uttanasana) appears in many style of yoga, from sweaty Ashtanga to Yin and while it looks simple, could be contributing to back pain.  Most people focus on getting their hands to the floor, and in the process forget that this pose is a hamstring stretch and compensate for the lack of flexibility in the hamstrings by curling over at the lower back.  While doing this once in a while to stretch out the lower back wont hurt you, consistently doing this movement and looking for improvement by destabilising the lumbar spine will lead to lower back pain over time.  Check out the three tips below to improve your forward fold without injury.

1. Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) Legs up the wall

          slowly move hips closer to wall, keeping legs straight and spine in neutral.  Keep pressing                your tailbone into the floor, not letting the lower back flatten into the ground to keep the                bend at the hip to target the hamstrings.

2. Bend your knees Modified Forward Fold keep the focus on the belly touching the thighs. This naturally lengthens out the spine and puts the basis of the stretch in the hamstrings, not the lower back.

3. Warm up – starting your practice with sprint intervals or fast-paced sun salutations to warm up the muscles sufficiently will improve your forward bend.

Buying Guide: Yoga Mats

Thickness

Yoga mats can range in thickness from 2mm to 5mm or even thicker.  If you have joint issues, a thicker mat will provide more cushioning than a standard mat.  Thin yoga mats are often marketed as travel mats, as they are easier to fold or roll up and are lighter.  As a trade-off for the increased portability, they do not provide much (if any) support but they are great for putting over your yoga studios rental mat.

Stickiness/texture

Yoga mats these days come in a variety of textures, from smooth and slick to rough and grippy.  As a general rule, more textured mats, like those made from open cell rubber(Jade mats) or jute and natural rubber (try We’ar), tend to have more grip, however I have found my lulu lemon mats (which are smooth) are the least slippery that I have tried so far.  If you have a sweaty practice, you may like to try a mat with a microfiber topping to save on using a towel.  The warmer and sweatier you get, the more grip the mat has.  Microfiber mats can also be nice for those of us you like to practice yin yoga, as the softness can feel nicer with a slow practice.  The yoga mats currently in stock at the My Yoga Escape facebook store have a Microfiber top.  Your standard ‘sticky mat’ has some texture, but as the PVC can have a coating from the manufacturing process, this can be slippery until it’s worn off.

Price

You can spend anywhere from as little at $6 for a standard PVC sticky mat to over $200 for premium brands such as Manduka.  As a rule, the more technical or eco-friendly the mat, the higher the price point.  This is due to the increased manufacturing costs, such as paying the factory workers a decent wage and choosing sustainable materials to manufacture from.  If buying online, be aware of shipping costs.  Yoga mats can be large and heavy (especially thicker mats) and this could be reflected in the shipping cost for the buyer.

Ecofriendliness

This comes down to personal preference.  PVC mats are not eco-friendly.  They often emit a strong chemical odour when first unrolled (this usually does go away with use) and have been made from a process that produces a lot of waste.  PVC also takes a long time to break down, even after the mat has been discarded.  Many brands are choosing to use natural rubber (such as Yogi Peace Club and Jade Yoga) and are sourcing this rubber from a sustainable source.  Other brands (like We’ar) incorporate natural fibers like just into their mats, for more texture and grip.

Size & Style

Obviously you want to pick a mat in a colour or pattern you like.  There are mats available in almost every solid colour and pattern imaginable.  One thing to take into consideration is the length of the mat.  If you are particularly tall, you may want to go looking for a longer mat.  There are also different shaped mats available nowadays, such as round or square.  While these are great for your home yoga practice, please be considerate of others if you are thinking of bringing these along to your local class.

Wear & Tear

As a general rule, mats made from synthetic materials tend to last longer than those made of natural fibres.  Natural fibers do have the benefit of being biodegradable and are better for the environment once the mat is no longer usable, as opposed to PVC mats which take decades to break down in landfill.