Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, stepping onto your yoga mat for a flow is an A-plus way to get re-centered. Yoga is probably the most de-stressing fitness modality out there, since it literally slows your brain waves and helps you to focus on your breath. There’s one category of yoga poses that work like a fast-forward button to achieve this, however, and yoga pros are explaining why forward fold benefits are worth tapping into for extra-stressful times.
You know how, as a child, you would hug your knees into your chest as a sort of self-cradle? Yoga poses that involve folds operate in that same way. “When you’re looking for a calming and grounding experience in your yoga practice, forward folds are where you want to dedicate more time,” says Mara Olney, yoga teacher and founder and CEO of LÜM Health Studio. “Just like how heart-opening poses energize your nervous system, forward folding postures create a calming effect throughout your central nervous system.”
This calming effect happens because of your spine, which is like a channel between your brain and the rest of your body. “Forward folds stretch and create space between the vertebrae in the spine, which is the commander of our autonomic nervous system,” says Savanna Stevens, founder of S3 Yoga. “This system directly affects our response to stress, so folds in yoga are really soothing to the nervous system, mind, and body.” While you’re in a folding pose, you’re also creating space for better circulation to your spinal cord, which further sends a calming signal to your brain, adds Olney. “Forward folds are a quick way to move out of fight-or-flight and into a rest and digest, which is why yoga teachers often cue forward folds at the end of class before savasana,” she says.
You don’t even need to flow through a full yoga session in order to reap the de-stressing benefits. “Whether you practice yoga regularly or not, add forward folds into your daily life to calm your mind,” says Olney. And you don’t have to be a pro yogi in order to fold, either. “What I love most about forward folds and its variations is that they are simple and accessible,” says Stevens. Her biggest tips? Let gravity do the work, and don’t worry about touching your toes. Keep scrolling for various folding yoga poses that’ll ease your stress in 60 seconds flat.
1. Ragdoll pose
Stevens likes the ragdoll pose to reap the forward fold benefits as a beginner. From standing, place your feet hip-width distance apart with your weight evenly distributed throughout both feet. Let your upper body hang over your legs with a micro-bend in your knees as you grab opposite elbows. Keep your head heavy and your neck long as you breathe.
2. Standing wide-leg forward fold
This fold variation is Olney’s favorite, since it gives you a deep stretch in your hamstrings and an opening sensation in the pelvis along with the entire back body. “Because of the wide straddle stance, this pose also feels stable, which makes it easy to relax and focus on your breath,” she says. Step your feet wide apart with your heels a little wider than your toes. Bring your hands to your hips and hug your elbows back. Fold forward with a flat back, then take an arm variation of your choice (your hands can be on the ground, hold onto your ankles, or clasp behind your back). Lean your weight forward into your toes with your tailbone up.
3. Child’s pose
Everyone loves child’s pose, which is actually a forward fold variation that instantly calms your body and mind, says Olney. From all fours, bring your knees wide and your toes together as you sink your hips back into your heels. Drape your arms forward as you rest your forehead onto the mat. Tuck your chin to lengthen the back of your neck and close your eyes as you breathe.
4. Seated forward fold
This fold variation will lengthen your hamstrings, release your lower back, and, according to Olney, bring you into a mindful awareness of the sensations in your body. Begin seated with your legs extended forward and your feet flexed. Tilt your pelvis forward and sit tall, thinking of lifting your ribs off of your hips. Inhale and reach your arms alongside your ears. On your exhale, fold into yourself. To modify, place your hands on either side of your legs and allow a soft bend in the knees.
5. Standing forward fold with a twist
As Stevens’ favorite folding pose, the added twist to the standing forward fold gives more of a stretch to your shoulders and works to wring out your spine. From standing with your feet hip-width distance apart, fold your torso down over your legs. Place one hand on the ground in the center, slightly in front of your feet. Take a small bend in the same knee and extend your opposite arm into the sky. Twist your torso sideways, trying to stack your shoulder blades, and gaze at your raised hand. Switch sides.