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As a yoga teacher, one of the most common questions that I receive after class is, “What poses would you recommend for lower back pain?” I always tend to recommend one of my favorite poses— ragdoll pose. This juicy, relaxing, and gentle pose is a posture that I always include in every class that I teach.
Ragdoll pose is a gentler variation of a standing forward bend, or Uttansana, in Sanksrit. Often practiced as part of the warm up in a yoga practice or in the middle of practice as an active recovery pose, this posture provides release, relief, and relaxation in the body.
How to Do Ragdoll Yoga Pose
- Starting from downward facing dog, begin to walk your feet forward until you are at the top of your mat.
- Once you arrive, bend your knees and keep your feet apart hips width distance. If you aren’t too sure about the distance, measure your two fists in between your big toes— this is generally a hips width distance stance.
- Check that your toes are pointing forward and that your heels are behind your toes.
- Bend your knees deeply so that your stomach rests on your thighs.
- Reach for your opposite elbows and clasp them with opposite hands.
- Relax your head, your shoulders, and your neck, and allow your upper body to release down.
- Begin to shift your weight slightly forward to the balls of your feet and start to activate your thigh muscles by lifting your kneecaps up and hugging your thigh muscles to the bone.
- If it feels good, you can start to slowly straighten the legs, but make sure to keep a micro bend in your knees.
- Feel free to sway in the posture or move your head, neck, and shoulders to release any tension.
- You can continue to hold on to opposite elbows, or you can try the following variations:
- Release your grip and let your fingertips graze the mat
- Interlace your fingers behind your body. Squeeze your palms together at the wrists and keep a micro-bend in your elbows. Begin to move your hands away from your body to open up your shoulders.
- Interlace your fingers behind your head where the head and the neck meet. This allows for a greater release in the neck, spine, and upper back.
Warming Up for Ragdoll Pose
Typically practiced in the beginning of your yoga practice, ragdoll yoga pose is usually considered a warm up pose before you start to flow into deeper asanas. Since this posture is practiced at the beginning of class, you are likely to practice only a few poses before finding yourself in ragdoll.
Common poses to practice before getting into ragdoll pose include:
- Child’s Pose: One of the most common poses to begin practice in is child’s pose. This posture helps to open up your hips, ankles, and thighs, while cultivating a sense of peace and calm in the body.
- Cat- Cow: Practiced with the breath, these two postures warm up the spine and open the upper back and chest. This movement in the spine helps to prepare your body for forward bends.
- Downward Facing Dog: This well-known pose stretches and opens the entire back body including your spine, legs, back, and hamstrings. Often, a ragdoll pose follows downward facing dog in a yoga practice.
Beginner Modifications for Ragdoll Pose
Ragdoll pose can be practiced by any yogi with any amount of experience. However, if you have a neck or back injury, clear the posture with your doctor or physical therapist before practicing it. If you are looking to modify ragdoll pose, try out these modifications:
- Instead of reaching for opposite elbows, place two yoga blocks at their highest height in front of your toes. Keeping your knees bent and upper body relaxed, place your hands on the blocks and fold forward.
- In the place of your two blocks, you can practice a similar variation using a chair instead. Come into the pose and rest your hands on the chair with a deep bend in your knees.
- Practicing near a wall, come into the pose but instead of reaching for opposite elbows, plant your palms on the wall in front of you. Spread your fingers wide and push the wall away while lengthening your spine like a tabletop. Keep your knees bending and your neck relaxed.
Benefits of Ragdoll Pose
There is a reason why ragdoll is commonly practiced in almost every yoga class that you may attend. With so many physical, therapeutic, and emotional benefits, it is a yoga asana that teachers and students alike love to include in their practice. This pose provides a great release in the body, allowing you to feel more open, relaxed, and ready to flow.
The benefits of ragdoll pose include:
- Lower back release: If you sit at a desk for hours at a time, it is not unlikely that you may suffer from some lower back pain. Ragdoll pose allows for a release of tension in your lower back and also lengthens the spine, which explains that great feeling of release that you may feel after practicing the pose.
- Lengthens your spine: In this relaxing forward fold, your spine is able to elongate and you are able to feel length not only in the spine, but your side body as well. This helps to create space and decompression, allowing a more spacious and open feeling after practicing the pose.
- Tension release: Whether you are feeling tension in your shoulders, lower back, our even jaw and face, the deep release in ragdoll pose helps to open your body and relieve any tightness that you may feel. Ragdoll also fosters a relaxed and calm vibe, helping you to feel less stressed and tense.
- Deep stretch: Even with a bend in the knees, you are able to feel a great stretch in your hamstrings and calves. This pose also opens and stretches your upper back, shoulders, and your neck.
- Improves body functions: Whether you are suffering from sinus congestion or poor digestion, standing forward folds can help to improve your body functions. This pose massages your internal organs, improving your digestion, and inverting upside down can help you to drain your sinuses.
- Stress relief: We carry a lot of tension and stress in our shoulders and neck. In ragdoll pose, you are meant to relax your entire upper body, allowing for a deep release of tension or stress that is stored in your body. Forward folds generally aid in depression, fatigue, insomnia, and stress.
Mistakes People Make During Ragdoll Pose
- Hyper extending your knees: This is one of the most common mistakes that yogis can make in ragdoll pose. In an effort to straighten your legs, you may begin to push your knees back to the point of hyperextension. Make sure that you keep a micro bend in your knees, even if it is easy for you to straighten your legs.
- Resting all the weight on your heels: Often this happens if you are hyper extending and locking your knees. Make sure that you shift the weight slightly forward to the balls of your feet while keeping your heels on the ground. Activate your thigh muscles and keep a bend in your knees.
- Lifting your head up: Your entire upper body should be relaxed so allow the heaviness of your head to lengthen your spine. Try not to look around and lift your chin away from your chest in your ragdoll.
- Tensing your neck and shoulders: Lifting the head up may cause tension in the neck and shoulders, or perhaps you are unconsciously lifting the shoulders up toward your ears. Let your shoulders, neck, and upper back completely relax in this pose.
- Actively rounding your spine: Your spine should find length in ragdoll, so make sure that you are bending your knees so that your stomach touches your thighs. Let the upper body completely relax so that you find length instead of rounding in the spine.
What is Uttanasana? The more active version of a ragdoll pose is Uttanasana, or standing forward fold. Practice this pose by folding forward, relaxing your head, bringing your stomach to your thighs, and your fingertips on the mat.
What is a Sun Salutation? A sun salutation, or Surya Namaskar is a series of poses that are practiced with breath. The traditional versions of a Sun Salutation often include downward dog, standing forward fold, plank pose, and cobra pose.
Do I have to straighten my legs in a forward fold? Absolutely not. With time, you will find that your flexibility will improve and you may find yourself closer to straighter legs. However, make sure to always modify and bend your knees to avoid injury if straightening your legs feels uncomfortable.
Mariel is a writer and NYC-based yoga teacher. She has been teaching for a decade and is a life-long student of the ancient practice.