Keep Your Spine Healthy in Forward Bending Yoga Poses – Best Ways to Use a Yoga Strap
The first time I encountered yoga props was way back in 1982. I’d been practicing asana for about six months when I joined an Iyengar-based class. The props were rather crude back then. We used discontinued carpet samples instead of yoga blankets. (The 1970s kitchen carpet samples we practiced with are burned into my memory!) There were no yoga blocks or yoga bolsters, or even yoga mats. A funky thrift store necktie served as a yoga strap.
By far the necktie/yoga strap was the most utilized prop in those classes. By connecting their hands and feet with a yoga strap in seated forward bends, students were able to keep their spines in a neutral position, no matter how tight their hamstrings were. This protected the sacroiliac (SI) joints and the intervertebral discs.
The importance of maintaining a neutral spine in forward bends shouldn’t be underestimated. Even if your hamstrings are pretty flexible, sitting on the floor with one or both legs stretched out in front of you is likely to cause your lumbar spine to round. When we bend forward, the vertebrae exert pressure on the fronts of the discs. In addition, the sacroiliac (SI) joint gaps. We can get away with this once in a while. But when we practice this way daily, over time, we risk wear and tear on the discs and possible SI joint instability.
How to Practice Head-to-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana) with a Yoga Strap—and Other Helpful Props
- Gather your props: yoga mat, one or two yoga blankets, yoga block, and yoga strap.
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Reach back and feel your lower spine. If the spinous processes—the knobby protrusions on the back of each vertebra—are poking out into your back, this means that your lumbar is in a convex rather than concave curve. If you know your hamstrings are on the tight side, try sitting on a folded yoga blanket to help your pelvis tilt forward more easily, which will also allow your spine to find its natural curves more easily.
- Bend your right knee out to the side so that your foot is in contact with the left inner thigh. If your knee is at all uncomfortable in this position, place a yoga block under your thigh to elevate your knee.
- Check your lumbar spine again. You may still feel the spinous processes poking out. If so, place another folded blanket under your hips.
- Take a yoga strap and place it around the balls of your left foot. Hold the strap with both hands and pull it toward you to help you bring your spine to a more upright position. Stay upright in the pose rather than bending forward.
- Take 5 to 10 deep breaths, grounding your sit bones as you lengthen your spine upward.
- If you decide to bend forward from here, keep the strap taut as you bend forward. Make sure that your pelvis moves forward with the rest of your spine.
- Take 5 to 10 deep breaths in the forward bend. On an inhalation, lift back up to sitting upright.
- Stretch your right knee out onto the floor and take a moment to feel into the legs and the two sides of your body. Then repeat the pose on the other side.
Reprinted with permission from Hugger Mugger Yoga Products.
Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.