Today we will cover one of the most simple yet effective yin poses; Caterpillar. Also known as seated forward bend or “paschimottanasana” in other yoga theories, this simple forward fold works to release the vertebrae of the spine and is also beneficial to digestion. Coming into the pose is simple; from a seated position with your legs out in front of you simply begin to fold forward while imagining that you are finding space between each vertebra. If you are someone who does not have copious amounts of flexibility, you will likely begin to feel some stiffness in the backs of your knees as your hamstrings begin to contract. Some of us (me included!) have stiff enough hamstrings that we find a bolster or a rolled up blanket under our knees helps our spine to stretch further. A bolster or blanket to rest your head (especially if you have a tense neck) can also be a nice addition.
After adjusting and modifying with props as needed, settle into the pose for 3-5 minutes. If you begin to feel discomfort (not pain) bring your mind to the discomfort and breathe into all places you may feel the sensation. There is always discomfort in life, so rather than distracting yourself from the discomfort, learn to accept its presence. After the 3-5 minutes are up, very slowly begin to roll your upper body up one vertebra at a time. Once you have returned to a seated position, let the legs stay out in front of you as you move your legs from side to side (like a windshield wiper) to release them from the hips. A nice way to counteract this pose is to simply lie flat on your stomach for a minute or two. Pay close attention to any kind of shift in energy; a feeling of lightness or decompression or even a pulsing sensation are not uncommon.
Things to know about Caterpillar pose. If you have sciatica, be sure to sit on the edge of a cushion or on a rolled up mat. If you have severe sciatica or are in the midst of a flare, this may be a pose you choose to avoid. If you have any sort of lower back disorder that does not allow flexion of the spine, be sure to keep the spine very straight (not rounded) or avoid the pose altogether. If the neck begins to feel strained, support the head in the hands by resting the elbows on a bolster placed in your lap. If you have a lot of flexibility in the hamstrings, you may not feel the spinal release until you separate the legs a little to allow for a deeper release.
Caterpillar is an excellent opener to a meditation practice as it helps to balance the Chi flow. Like many yoga poses, it is incredibly beneficial for the average American who spends too many hours a day sitting with a compressed spine in a chair. Enjoy this pose as often as you can!
Did you try this pose? Tell us about your experience in the comments!