Vajrāsana Forward Bend
Vajrāsana Forward Bend, more often called Child's Pose, is a soothing and quieting posture for the mind and body. The forward-bending components are relaxing, and the pose can build flexibility in the back to prepare for deeper forward bending poses. It's an excellent counter-pose as well, as the movement of the back, hips, shoulders, legs and and arms can relieve strain and improve function in all these areas.
Functions of the Pose
Lengthen back of body
Flexion of hips and spine gently elongates the muscles that run along both sides of the spine as well as the outer hips, buttocks and hamstrings. Especially for students with chronic low back pain, this gentle movement can gradually relax the back muscles, preventing strain or overstretching in these tissues.
Compression of the lower abdomen while exhaling has a soothing, lightening effect as it moves the apana region, the area responsible for elimination. The apana-pacifying quality also improves digestion, elimination of waste and quality of breath.
Finding the Pose
First, come to hands and knees, with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders.
As you exhale, allow your hips to drift toward your heels, so that the weight of your body moves toward your legs and you feel the lower back lengthen.
As you inhale, return back to hands and knees, using the strength of the upper back and legs to lift, and gradually placing weight back in the hands.
Move this way with your breath. You can also stay in the exhale position (child's pose) for a breath or more as you warm up to it.
Tips and Modifications
Many students will feel more comfortable in this pose if they bring the knees or hands slightly wider to borrow mobility from the hips or shoulders. This can be especially useful for students with less mobility in the spine. However, students should not bring the spine into extension, curving toward the floor, as that can increase the load on the mid and lower back.
Most students will need some sort of cushion under their knees to protect the joint. Students may need extra cushion or need an alternative to this posture if pressure on the knees is contraindicated. I generally utilize vajrāsana forward bend for the lower back and hip movement, and if students need an alternative I have them do uttānāsana in a chair or apānāsana to get a similar function.
Another method of entering and leaving this posture is to begin in vajrāsana, seated kneeling on the heels. On the inhale, stand on the knees and lift the arms overhead. On the exhale, hips move back toward heels as hands move out in a wide arc and meet together on the lower back or on the floor outside the legs in the child's pose position. This method requires more strength in the legs and upper back, as well as more flexibility in the back
I typically use vajrāsana forward bend as a counter-posture, to relieve strain from a long period of standing poses, or after backward-bending postures like bhujangāsana (cobra) and salabhāsana (locust). The hands-and-knees position also makes this pose a great transition from standing to the floor and vice-versa.
Vajrāsana forward bend is part of the vinyasa krama for cakravakasana, a backward-bending posture in which students extend one leg (and possibly the opposite arm) to lengthen the body. The combination of cakravakasana and vajrāsana forward bend is a great preparation for more challenging backward-bending postures.
A note about "cat-cow" pose in yoga: Many styles of yoga make use of a movement called cat-cow, in which the student is on hands and knees and alternately moves the spine through flexion (rounding like an arch) and extension (dropping the waist toward the floor). I have found that this movement problematic for most students, as it tends to increase compression of the low back in the "cow" shape and increases the rounding of the upper back in the "cat" shape; most students will find greater benefit with emphasis on lengthening the spine, not just bending it. I suspect that Cat/Cow is actually quite an advanced posture, which requires a lot of strength to isometrically “pull” the spine longer from head to tail in flexion and extension. I teach the above variation of vajrāsana forward bend because I find it accessible to most, it brings more movement where needed and tends not to increase the strain on already taxed areas of the spine.
Primary Muscle Actions
The erector spinae, hamstrings, gluteal muscles and outer hip muscles (piriformis, etc.) are gradually lengthened as the hips settle toward the heels.
Trapezius and rhomboid muscles relax as weight is removed from the arms, and the lattisimus dorsi muscles are gently lengthened as the hips move back.
The glueteal muscles, outer hip, hamstrings and erector spinae (especially in the upper back) are strengthened when returning to the starting position.
Stretches back, hips and legs and provides relief from lower back pain.
Reduction of stress, tension and anxiety.
Overall feeling of release, safety and composure.
Can help relieve menstrual or digestive discomfort.
For some students, including many with disc herniation or spinal stenosis of the lumbar spine, flexion of the spine (and sometimes of the hips) is contraindicated. Apanasana may be more suitable, but students should be certain to move slowly and only at the hip join (their lower back shouldn't curl up off the floor).
Although the knee flexion of child's pose can be therapeutic for knee injuries, students with history of knee problems or recent surgery should take care not to push into the posture. There should be no sensation of stretching or pain on the ligaments surrounding the knee. If full knee flexion isn't attainable, students can think of only moving hips back a bit to lengthen the spine, not down toward the heels. Likewise, students can place a rolled blanket underneath their ankles if extension of the ankle joint is uncomfortable.
During the mid to latter portion of pregnancy, when abdominal pressure is contraindicated and uncomfortable, students can try a wider-kneed child's pose.
"Magic three yoga poses and how they can make you feel better every day" (Olga Kabel at Sequence Wiz)
"Chakravasana" (video includes vajrasana forward bend and adho mukha svanasana, downward dog)