Why I don’t roll up from a standing forward fold

4 min read

Your lovely yoga teacher has the whole class in a standing forward fold and says, “Now, roll up to standing, vertebrae by vertebrae, with grace and ease.” Have you followed these instructions and tried it? If you are a teacher, have you taught this?

This is something I did and taught, too. But I no longer do this because it led me to hurt myself (more about that later). As a yoga therapist, I do not teach this movement because it isn’t functional.

What is meant by functional movement?

Functional movement is moving in a manner that is based on your actual movement needs. It could be walking up the stairs or taking out the garbage, playing with our children or grandchildren (and then picking up the kids), driving to yoga, or reaching up to the top shelf for salsa and chips.

Some may find this list silly, but those who have experienced or know someone whom these activities have restricted understand the importance of such activities for independence, empowerment, and engagement with the world.

Not all yoga has a functional basis. Note: Traditional yoga was not meant to prepare people for real-world practical activities. Yoga was originally developed for young male monks. If you’re not a monk, I suggest that you adapt your practice to your modern lifestyle and body. But that’s a whole other article.)

Several yoga poses may have been adapted from dance or sports, but they were not designed to prepare our bodies and minds for the practical demands of everyday life. The common cue to roll up from a forward fold standing position is a good example.

Why I don’t roll up my standing folds anymore

This likely came from yoga teachers who were trained in dance. This may be okay if you don’t have any back pain, arthritis, or disc problems. It is high-risk for most people and can cause an injury such as a herniated disk or severe spasm. It’s not functional, and in many ways, it doesn’t encourage long-term back health.

When we lift something heavy, it is probably common knowledge that we should bend at the hips and knees instead of rounding the back. I think that yoga should not contradict such recommendations. They are based on an understanding of the biomechanics of the body.

I used to roll up to standing during yoga classes because it felt graceful, and my teacher told me it was good for me. It conditioned my body to be poor. One time, while bending over to pick up trash, I pulled a muscle and experienced a back spasm. It took me weeks to recover. It took me weeks to fully recover. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I realized that my yoga classes had neurologically programmed my movements. Yoga is powerful.

After learning the hard way how to come up from a forward fold, I now teach and practice this by hinging from the hips with a long spine and (at least slightly) flexed legs.

A Roll-Up Alternative

This method is a way I developed to program the brain and body to default to a functional movement pattern.

Try bending your knees slightly or a lot from a forward-folding position. You can find the right amount of knee bend to reduce the pull on your back.

Bring your hands to the hips. Engage your core under your hands (we’re aiming to activate particularly the transverse abs, also known as the “anatomical Corset” and the pelvic Floor). This will also help to bring the spine back into neutral. The lower back should be slightly curled into its natural position.

As you inhale, lift your body to standing by leading with your back.

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