The Sanskrit word bala (pronounced bah-lah) means "child." This practice was inspired by a baby's folded position in the womb. The benefits of this side bend, which is a variation of balasana, the child's posture (covered in Chapter 15), are the same as for the seated side bend.
The following steps show you how it works:
1. Sit on your heels with your toes pointing back and fold forward by laying your abdomen on your thighs and your head on the floor.
Extend your arms forward with yourpalms on the floor as in Figure 11-9a
Wait a few moments before you stretch farther on each side.
2. As you exhale, stay in the folded position and slide your upper torso, head, arms, and hands to the right as far as possible, as shown in Figure 11-9b.
Wait for a few seconds and again, with another exhalation, slide farther to the right if you can do so without straining.
3. Return to center and repeat the sequence to the left side, staying in Step 2 for 6 to 8 breaths on each side.
Of all the ways the human torso (and spine) can move, bending forward is the maneuver folks most commonly use. A tucked or fetal position is inherently comforting to most people, perhaps because they spend their first nine months positioned like that in their mothers' wombs.
Forward bends are usually a good way to begin any movement routine (unless you're dealing with spinal disc injuries or certain other back problems). Though back bends are the lively extroverts of the asana family, forward bends are the retiring introverts; they're always performed with an exhalation — the passive, contracting phase of the breathing cycle.
Constantly bending forward from the waist tends to put stress on the lower back and neck. Yogic forward bends call for movement from the hip joints, a switch that can help you maintain a healthy, stress-free spine as you correct the poor forward-bending habits we discuss earlier in this chapter.
Be very careful of all the seated forward bends if you have disc-related back problems.
If you have a problem sitting upright on the floor in the seated forward bend or in any of the following forward bending postures, raise your hips with folded blankets or firm pillows, as shown in Figure 11-10c.
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