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Balasana ( Standing forward bend ) - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Balasana Potential Problem Areas Image
            · High blood pressure and head congestion

            · Lumbar Spine

            · Circulation in the legs

            · Knees

            · Ankles

            Pregnancy



High blood pressure and head congestion

Generally if one has high blood pressure it is not recommended to stay in a position in which the head is below the heart – since doing so somewhat increases the risk of a stroke occurring. In case of child pose the blood flow to the legs is restricted, which also has an effect of increasing the over-all blood pressure. If this is an issue for you, you will almost certainly notice that your face looks or feels flushed just after being in child pose or that you feel the head is pressured (perhaps in waves) or congested when in child pose. Similarly, when one’s head is congested (for example from a nasal cold) it can feel very uncomfortable to take the head lower than heart level – especially in a very closed pose like child pose.

In both cases the solution is relatively simple – that of placing sufficient support/padding under the head so that it ends up level or slightly higher than level with the heart. This support could take the form of a couple of yoga blocks, a couple of thickly folded towels or a low stool or even fists placed on top of each other.


Lumbar spine

This is a relatively safe forward bend for the lumbar spine because the front of the trunk is supported by the thighs, and much of the weight of the trunk is taken through the head (and / or arms) leading to less pull or work through the back muscles. However, some approaches to moving into and out of the child pose are less stressful for the lower back than others. One of the least stressful approaches for the lower back is to move into and out of the child pose from the all fours position. Another approach that is commonly used is to move into or out of child pose from kneeling – but this does require a bit more awareness and work from one’s back muscles.


Circulation in the legs

In this pose the circulation to the legs is relatively restricted – some people may even feel the legs go slightly numb if held for too long, then feel pins & needles upon releasing the pose with the blood flow returning fully to the legs. This relative restriction of blood flow makes the pose completely contra-indicated for those with thrombosis in the leg veins or with oedema in the legs. However, the sudden increase in blood flow that occurs when the pose is released makes this pose therapeutic when held only for a minute or so for those with a tendency towards varicose veins – but those with a tendency toward varicose veins must take care not to hold the pose for long otherwise the tendency towards varicose veins is increased.


Knees

In this pose the knees are close to their extreme position (of flexion) and may also have a sight twist and thus are venerable. Even for healthy knees, it is desirable after practising the pose to do a realignment exercise (i.e. flexing and extending the knee) to ensure that the knee joint ends up properly aligned and that the tendons are tracking in the right place.

The amount of twist that occurs round the axis of the knee joint is highly dependant on the position of the feet. The feet should be placed with the toes pointing backwards and the top side of the feet resting on the floor. It is quite common for students to place their feet so the toes point sideways, with the inside edge of the feet resting on the floor – this is extremely unkind to the knee joints as it puts a large twist into the knee joint.

For many people their bottom does not rest on their heels and, indeed, it is not uncommon for it to be quite high – this is not actually a problem but it does suggest that the quadriceps (the three vastus muscles) are tight and does change other aspects of the pose. It can be helpful to place padding between the heels and buttocks. Another approach, (best combined with also having padding between heels and buttocks) is, instead of having the head low, to rest the forehead on a chair or arms which are resting on the chair – this leads to a more elongated forward bend and a little more stretching of the quadriceps.

For many who have knee problems, this pose is one that is best avoided. Also, if the knees are not comfortable in this pose then it is best avoided until the knees become healthier.


Ankles

In this pose the ankle is in an extreme position of plantar flexion. For many this is uncomfortable (either in the ankle or in the shin muscles) – usually due to tightness in muscles in the shin. A solution is to roll something like a towel and place it under the ankle joint – this reduces how far into plantar flexion the ankle joints have to be. Obviously the greater the tightness in shin muscles the greater the diameter of the roll of padding required to be placed under the ankles.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

Two key issues here. One is the reduction in circulation in the legs, which makes this a posture to avoid resting in for extended periods. This circulation issue can be greatly reduced by placing several yoga blocks between the feet and then a wedge-shaped bit of padding on top (an appropriately folded towel might suffice) so the hips are very lifted and the flexion in the knees is not extreme and the circulation in the legs is only marginally reduced.

Another issue in later stages of pregnancy is allowing enough space for the abdomen. One approach is to have one’s knees wide so that there is space for the abdomen between the legs. Another approach is to rest the head on a padded chair or wall (or arms which are resting on a chair) – this sort of approach often seems to be illustrated in yoga for pregnancy books so presumably it feels very comfortable and comforting.
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