Standing forward bend

This stretch feels great if your back is tired, especially if you've been standing for a long time. When you stand for an extended period of time, the muscles of your back and hamstrings (the back of your thighs) tend to tighten up, creating stiffness and tension in the muscles. The first phase of this stretch targets the muscles of your back, specifically your erector spinae, and the second phase targets your back and hamstrings.

To do this stretch, follow these steps:

1. Begin standing with your feet about hip-width apart and your toes facing forward.

2. Exhale and bend forward from your hips and knees until your chest rests on your quads and you can place your hands flat on the floor in front of you.

Try to keep your hands close to your feet, and your feet flat on the floor (see Figure 6-3a).

3. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

To make sure that the muscles in your neck and shoulders are relaxed, gently shake your head from side to side as if you were saying "no." Remember to breathe as you hold this position.

4. Exhale and slowly begin straightening your legs until you feel tension in the back of your thighs (see Figure 6-3b).

Your hands are still flat on the floor in front of you.

5. Release the stretch by inhaling, bending your knees again, and resting your torso back on your thighs for the length of two deep breaths.

6. Exhale, release your hands from the floor, and slowly begin to roll up, really focusing on stacking your vertebrae — one at a time — until you're standing tall.

If your back and hamstrings are tight, you may need to place your hands on a yoga block or thick book to keep you from having to bend all the way down to the floor. This assistance allows you to stretch the appropriate muscles without overextending and perhaps causing pain. It's also is a great way to gradually increase your flexibility without overstretching in the beginning.

Figure 6-3:

The standing forward bend — a great lower back and hamstring stretch.

Figure 6-3:

The standing forward bend — a great lower back and hamstring stretch.

A few do's and don'ts for this stretch:

i Do keep your hands flat on the floor in front of you and your neck relaxed. i Do pull your abdominals in tight when you begin to roll up. i Don't tense or tighten your shoulders and/or neck.

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