Step-By-Step Beginners Guide To The Seated Forward Fold Pose

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Step-By-Step Beginners Guide To The Seated Forward Fold Pose 15

Purpose

Here are some of the reasons why Seated Forward Fold is good for you:

  • Stretches the entire back side of the body
  • Stimulates blood circulation for digestive organs
  • Improves spinal mobility
  • Alleviates anxiety and stress
  • Increases circulation

Pose Guide

In order to do Seated Forward Fold correctly, here are the steps:

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  • Begin seated with your legs extended out in front of you. Bring your legs together so they are touching. Touch your big toes together, leaving about an inch between your heels. Knees and toes are facing the sky.
  • Lengthen the spine and stretch your ears away from your shoulders by lowering your shoulders down your back away from your ears. Keep your chin parallel to the ground.
  • At this starting position, be sure to sit on the backs of your thighs rather than leaning back on your glutes. 
  • Inhale, raising your arms up toward the sky with the palms facing each other and elbows extended.
  • As you exhale, bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips, lengthening the spine as you lower your core to your lap. Wrap your hands around the outside edges of your feet.
  • Engage your thighs by rotating your inner thighs in toward each other.
  • Lengthen through your feet as you press your hips into the ground.
  • Straighten the legs slowly, keeping your core and chest connected with the legs.
  • As you inhale, lift your chest slightly.
  • As you exhale, lower your chest back down to your legs.
  • Pull your toes toward your hips to intensify the stretch.

Practical Tips

Do This, Not That! Common Mistakes Beginners Make In Seated Forward Fold

Rotating the knees out away from each other: It’s a common mistake for beginners to allow the knees to open out away from each other in Seated Forward Fold. This often indicates overly tight hamstrings, as the knees and hips externally rotate in an effort to lessen the stretch. Bypassing the hamstring stretch diminishes the overall benefits of the pose, encouraging the shortening of your hamstring muscles.

This sets the stage for potential injury and limitation, so it’s best avoided. If you are unable to achieve the full expression of the pose while keeping your knees aligned, simply modify the pose to support where you are right now. The section below will offer you options for modification. Choose the one(s) that work best for you.

Forcing the fold with the arms and hands: Try not to use the arms and hands to force the fold deeper than where it is. This could lead to strain and injury. The arms are there for support, but not to be the driving force of the stretch. In fact, gravity does the bulk of the work during Seated Forward Fold. Activating the core, legs and feet can add support and intensity as needed.

Bending from the waist: When you bend at the waist in Seated Forward Fold, the back ends up rounding, especially at the upper back and neck. This can exacerbate postural misalignments, shortening the chest, shoulder and neck muscles. It can also  strain the lower back, and it hinders the stretch in the backs of the legs.

For best form, hinge at the hips, where your thighs meet your torso, and extend the torso forward, keeping the back flat. Lengthen the spine throughout the movement and engage the core to provide stability and support in this posture.

Distending the belly: Some beginners can make the mistake of distending the belly in Seated Forward Fold. This means they push the abdominal muscles forward and out in order to get the torso closer to the legs. Distending the belly can significantly decrease the safety and support that the abdominals provide for the delicate vital organs that are housed in the abdominal cavity.

It weakens the abdominals, and therefore adds additional strain on the low back. The proper way to engage the core is to pull your belly button in toward your spine, rather than pushing it out away from your back. This will give you a safer and more comfortable experience of the pose.

Aiming head toward thighs instead of the chest toward feet: When you aim your head toward your thighs instead of aiming your chest toward your feet, you create a rounding of the back in Seated Forward Fold. This is essentially the same as bending at the waist. This can exacerbate postural misalignments, shortening the chest, shoulder and neck muscles.

It can also strain the lower back, and it hinders the stretch in the backs of the legs. For best form, hinge at the hips and aim your chest toward your feet, keeping the back flat. Lengthen the spine throughout the movement and engage the core to provide stability and support in this posture.

Props and Modifications

You should consider a modification if you experience the following:

  • Inability to straighten the knees
  • Inability to reach hands to the feet
  • Pain or pinching in the back

Inability to straighten the knees:

One simple option is to adjust how far forward you are folding in this pose. You can focus more on the leg stretch by keeping the knees flat and only folding forward as far as you need to feel a stretch in the back of the body.

You can also practice Seated Forward Fold with bent knees if your back, glutes, hips and/or thighs are too tight to straighten the knees to the floor. This will allow more of a forward fold, shifting the focus of the stretch more toward the back.

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Alternatively, you can place a bolster beneath your knees, perpendicular to your legs for support.

If the back of your body is overly tight, you can elevate your hips by sitting on a block. For some people this can create enough freedom in the hips and thighs to allow the knees to straighten.

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For even tighter back muscles, try this pose while sitting in a chair. To do this, sit with your hips at the front edge of the seat of the chair. Extend your legs out in front of you, resting your heels on the ground. As you fold your torso forward, place your hands on your legs for support. The rest of the pose is essentially the same as instructed above.

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Inability to reach hands to the feet:

The simplest modification is to let your hands reach as far forward as possible, then drop them to rest on your legs, behind your knees, or on the ground.

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Another option is to loop a strap around the soles of your feet, taking the ends of the strap in your hands. Adjust the position of your hands to provide the best strap length for your body.

Try resting your forearms on blocks set up just outside your legs to support you as you fold forward. Adjust the height of the block to fit your body.

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Alternatively, you can place a folding chair over your legs, resting your arms and hands on the seat of the chair as you fold forward.

Pain or pinching in the back:

Try decreasing the angle of the fold to alleviate extraneous tension in the back. You can do this by bending your knees and/or modifying the position of the upper body. Try rotating the knees out away from each other or forcing the fold with the arms and hands.

For a more restorative version of Seated Forward Fold, place a bolster on your lap so that it is parallel with your legs. It should be resting on your legs from your belly to your knees. As you fold forward, allow your torso to rest against the bolster, lengthening your spine and engaging your core to avoid any uncomfortable spinal compression.

If you need additional support here, you can place a second bolster in a perpendicular position on top of the first.

Excessive tightness and restriction in the low back:

If your back is very tight, and you feel the stretch in your hamstrings rather than your back, you can try this option: Begin seated, as instructed, with legs extended and touching, and upper body upright. Place your hands on the ground beside your hips. Keeping your palms planted into the ground, walk your hips backward by shifting your weight into your right hip as you lift your left hip and reposition it backwards, repeating on the other side.

Continue to walk your hips backward until your hands are beside your knees or your shins and you feel a stretch in your low back.  Shift your chest forward to further activate the stretch in your low back. Imagine a wall behind your low back. Keep pressing your chest forward to keep your low back from leaning back on the imaginary wall.

Another way to modify the pose for excessive lower back tension is to try Runner’s Stretch instead. It will give you a similar stretch through the back of the body focusing on one side at a time for more comfort and mobility. To do this pose, begin as you would in Seated Forward Fold. Bend the right knee out to the side, placing the right foot against the inside of the left thigh.

The rest of the pose is the same except you will grab your left foot with both hands. It is okay to bend the left knee as needed to accommodate your level of flexibility. Repeat on the other side to stretch both sides of the back.

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Common questions:

  • When is Seated Forward Fold contraindicated?
  • What if I can’t get my knees to straighten?
  • Should I be trying to touch my head to my knees?
  • How far forward should I bend in Seated Forward Fold?
  • Can I practice Seated Forward Fold if I have really tight leg and back muscles?
  • Is the purpose of this pose to stretch the lower back or the hamstrings? Which one should I concentrate on more?
  • Which modification should I use? Bend the knees or use a strap?

When is Seated Forward Fold contraindicated?

Acute back or spinal injury

Acute glutes, hip or hamstring injury

Untreated blood pressure imbalances

Hernia

Vertebral disc diseases

Diarrhea

Asthma

Pregnancy – consult your healthcare provider

What if I can’t get my knees to straighten?

There are many ways to modify Seated Forward Fold if you are unable to fully straighten your knees. See the modifications section above to find a version that works for you.

Should I be trying to touch my head to my knees?

No, the goal is to stretch the back of the body with an elongated spine by hinging at the hips. Trying to touch the head to the knees often leads to bending at the waist rather than the hips. Instead, think about trying to  lengthen your spine. You are reaching your torso forward as much as you’re folding it toward your legs. 

How far forward should I bend in Seated Forward Fold?

You only need to bend as far forward as you need to feel a stretch in the back of the body. With consistent practice, you will find your body naturally bending closer to your legs. It is not helpful to force the fold beyond what is comfortable.

Can I practice Seated Forward Fold if I have really tight leg and back muscles?

Yes, you can. If you can’t get your body into the fullest expression of the pose, you can explore modifications that will allow you to practice the pose in supported ways as you build the flexibility needed. Check out the section on modifications above to find variations that feel good for you.

Is the purpose of this pose to stretch the lower back or the hamstrings? Which one should I concentrate on more?

This pose, in its fullest expression, will stretch the entire back side of the body, including both the hamstrings and the lower back. However, if you have excessive tightness and/or restriction in your body, you may not feel the complete stretch. You can choose to modify the pose to stretch whichever area is tighter for you. See the modifications section above for options.

Which modification should I use? Bend the knees or use a strap?

Try them both and see which modification feels best for your body. For some people it will be bending the knees; others will get more benefit from using a strap. Still others will do best doing both. 

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