Paschimottanasana | Seated Forward Bend
paschimottana = intense stretch of the west (pashima = west
uttana = intense stretch)
Literally translated as “intense stretch of the west,” Paschimottanasana can help a distracted mind unwind.
Type of Pose: Seated
• Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
•Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings
•Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus
•Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort
•Soothes headache and anxiety and reduces fatigue
•Therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis
•Traditional texts say that Paschimottanasana increases appetite, reduces obesity, and cures diseases.
•Back injury: Only perform this pose under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
Step by Step
1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Rock slightly onto your left buttock, and pull the flesh away from your right glute, (lifting your gift), allowing the right sit bone to sit directly on the floor. Repeat on the other side. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor. Press actively through your heels. Press through your palms or finger tips on the floor beside your hips and lift the top of the sternum toward the ceiling as the top thighs descend.
2. Draw the inner groins deep into the pelvis. Inhale, stretch up with the torso, extend forward from the hip joints, (not the waist). Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of your pelvis.
3. There are several options for holding the feet: place the hands flat on the floor beside the feet or as far as they can go; or hold the out edges of the feet with the hands; or clasp either the big toes with the yogi grip; or bring the hands over the toes and pull the toes toward the head with the hands; or interlace the fingers around the feet; or take the hands around the feet and clasp one wrist with the opposite hand – the hand that is not clasping has the palm facing outward. If you choose this option, be sure to change wrists, holding each wrist for equal amounts of time. Be sure your elbows are straight, not bent. The back should remain as straight as possible at this point.
4. To deepen further into the pose, don’t forcefully pull yourself into the forward bend. Instead, lengthen the front torso into the pose, keeping the head raised. If you are holding the feet, bend the elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and lastly the head.
5. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates and lengthens almost imperceptibly with the breath. Eventually you may be able to stretch into one of the deeper hand positions previously mentioned.
6. Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. To come up, release the hands, straighten the elbows and lift the torso away from the thighs, inhale and lift the torso up in a flat back by pulling the tailbone down and into the pelvis and engaging the abdominal muscles.
Beginner Tips: Never force yourself into a forward bend, especially when sitting on the floor. Coming forward, as soon as you feel the space between your pubis and navel shortening, stop, lift up slightly, and lengthen again. Often, because of tightness in the backs of the legs, a beginner’s forward bend doesn’t go very far forward and might look more like sitting up straight.
Place a folded blanket under the buttocks if the student has poor back or hamstring flexibility. Some students may need to hold a strap around the feet, especially if they are far from reaching their feet. If the student is not able to relax their head to their legs, place a bolster or folded blanket on the legs and lay the forehead down on it-this type of student will most likely also need a bolster or blanket under their buttocks as well. Extremely stiff students can place a rolled up blanket under their knees.
Deepen the Pose: Try one of the deeper hand positions mentioned in step 3 above. You can also place a block against the soles of your feet and grip the sides of it with your hands. Have the intension of touching the crown of the head to the tops of the feet with the back fully extended.
Teacher’s Tip: You can help release the student’s lower back in this pose. Stand facing the student’s back. Observe their breathing so that you can move in conjunction with it. Place your hands on the student’s lower back and pelvis area with the fingers point towards their tailbone and press. Remember though that the pressure isn’t to push them deeper into the forward bend; rather, gentle pressure (parallel to the line of the back) encourages the back spine and tailbone to lengthen away from the torso. Tell the student to extend the front torso against this downward action.
Another assist, is to sit back to back and as your student bends forward, you will lie back on their back giving them a soft pressure. Depending on the students flexibility you may be reclined only slightly back or possibly laying completely on top of them, allow your arms to either spay out to the sides or up over head and back to give you a nice stretch in the chest and armpits.
Variation: Urdhva Mukha (urdhva = upward; mukha = face) Paschimottanasana
Lie on your back, exhale, and bend your knees into your torso. Then inhale and extend the heels toward the ceiling. Slowly, on an exhalation, swing your feet toward the floor above your head. You may or may not be able to reach all the way to the floor. The pelvis may try to lift off the floor, keep it as grounded as possible. This is an upside-down version of Paschimottanasana.