Why you’ve been doing forward folds wrong for years.
“Stack your joints.” As students, we hear this in every class. “Stack your joints.” As teachers, we offer this reminder throughout our asana practice. But when it comes to forward folds, it seems we forget this cue in our journey toward the floor. Or do we even know what it means to stack our joints?
Examine the joints involved in a forward fold. We flex our spine, pelvis & hips over our stable knees and ankles. Proper alignment in this position would have us stack our hips over our knees & ankles instead of moving our hips posterior and behind our ankles. (see the image below)
So why do we make this shift? Simply stated, it makes the forward fold easier and we feel more balanced. Mechanically, we end up flexing farther forward when we shift our hips backwards. But anatomically, we are no longer stacking our joints in this position.
Why all the fuss? When we shift our hips behind our ankles we put a lot of extra stress on the upper hamstring tendons. Their attachments on the ischial tuberosity (sits bone) begin to fray and get damaged. Over time, the repetitive stress of this improper movement can cause significant pain and damage making yoga, and especially forward folds, very challenging. Also, when our hips are behind our ankles our weight shifts into our heels often causing us to lock our knees in order to regain stability. Without a microbend in our joints, we create a lot of unnecessary friction and the potential joint pain & long-term damage.
So the next time you begin a forward fold, remember your cues. Ground the “4 corners” of your feet into the earth, rise out of your joints expanding up toward the sky, microbend your knees, and stack your hips over your knees & ankles. Your body will love you for it!