Paschimottanasana yoga or the seated forward bend pose is an intense yoga stretch of the west or backside of the body. The name Paschimottanasana is a combination of three Sanskrit words, Paschim/uttana/asana, which literally means the extended dorsal bend. It is said that the Paschimottanasana pose is one of the best yoga poses and practising this pose unleashes magical powers.
One of the classical asanas in Hatha Yoga, Paschimottanasana benefits cover all the body systems, activating the psychic energy channels and giving vital air control. It is simple yet challenging. You feel you have reached the goal of this pose when you start for the first time, pulling your head down to touch your legs. However, there is a lot more to it. Continue reading to know more about this pose, its benefits and steps to practice.
What is the Paschimottanasana Pose – Quick Facts
Paschimottanasana pose is a simple and traditional Hatha yoga Asana in which the back of the body is stretched out. It belongs to the category of seated poses and is one of the best yoga asanas for the healing of the entire body. In Paschimottanasana, your body is folded inwards, stretching the areas from your calves to your hamstrings to your spine.
While Paschim stands for the west or back of the body, Uttanasana means standing forward fold. According to the western philosophy, the front of our body is referred to as East and the back as West. The name of this asana literally means an intense stretch of the west or the intense forward bend. Since the back is stretched more, this is how the pose received its name.
Paschimottamasana has tremendous health benefits and covers up the entire body system. Its primary focus is on the spine, but it is also responsible for boosting the energy level of the body, besides teaching you patience and control of breath.
How to Practice Paschimottanasana – Step by step instructions
Get that inner state of calm with the following six steps of Paschimottanasana yoga :
- Sit upright on the yoga mat; your legs stretched out straight in front of you.
- Keep your spine erect and your toes flexed towards you.
- Breathe slowly, keeping your respiration normal.
- While inhaling, raise both the arms straight above your head and stretch your body upwards.
- Slowly exhale and bend your upper part of the body forward, from the hip joint, your chin moving toward the toes. Keep your spine straights.
- Now place your hands on your legs, as far as they can reach, careful not to put much effort.
- You can hold on to your toes if needed and pull on them to help you bend forward. You can also loop a strap around the foot soles to hold on to.
- The lower belly touches the thigh first, then the upper belly, then the ribs and lastly, the head. Now hold this position for as long as you can.
- With every inhalation, stretch the torso and with every exhalation, release a little more into the forward bend.
- Once you feel you cannot hold any longer, slowly inhale and raise your body, lifting and stretching up your arms straight above your head.
- Now slowly exhale, bringing your arms down and place the palms flat on the ground.
- Relax for a while and let your body feel the changes that occurred within.
Paschimottanasana yoga pose may seem a single still image, but it benefits many different parts of your body. The major benefit of this asana is that it stretches the entire back of your body, from heels to the head. It is said to create a sense of inner calm and cure many diseases of the body and mind. Besides this, Paschimottanasana yoga pose provides:
- Helps to open your hips, improving their flexibility
- Improves circulation
- Burns the abdomen fat and tones the muscles of arms and shoulders
- Stimulates liver, kidneys, uterus and ovaries
- Strengthens quads and elongates the spine
- Helps to activate kundalini energy in the body
- Helps fight stress and anxiety
- Helps relax the mind and induce sound sleep
- Increases the concentration of the mind
- Helps fight menopausal discomforts
- Helps cure high blood pressure, sinusitis and also infertility
This intense dorsal stretch trains you in patience and breathwork. Every forward stretch creates an inner space and freedom.
Daily practise of this seated forward bend pose helps eliminate digestive issues and normalise the menstrual cycle in females. It is a boon for both overweight and underweight people as it burns fat and also increases appetite. People feeling down or less energetic get an energy boost by including this practice in their daily schedule.
Challenges and Modifications
Is Paschimottanasana asana difficult? Well, the Paschimottanasana pose looks simple but is, in fact, one of the most difficult yoga poses. But it is worth the effort because of its enormous benefits.
Do not try this asana if you:
- Have a back injury or back issues
- Have asthma or breathing problem
- Have digestive issue like diarrhoea
- Are Pregnant
It is advised to practice this under the guidance of a certified yoga instructor. Initially, you may find it quite difficult, but with daily practice your spine will get used to the stretch.
There are three ways you can modify Paschimottanasana for safer alignment in your body.
- If you can’t breathe due to tight hamstrings –
Bend your knees and press them together, flexing your feet till you can get hold of them. If you still find it difficult, you can make do with just holding your ankles or shins. Now bow your head towards the knees and concentrate just below the nose on the sound of your breath and the movement of your ribs.
- If you can’t breathe freely and deeply due to tummy compress –
Spread your legs a little, but not more than hips distance apart, and bend your knees. This will lower the pressure on your tummy. Now flex your feet, hold their outer edges and relax your upper back, inhaling slowly.
- If you have chronic back pain or disc issues –
Keep your spine neutral with a slight forward pelvic tilt. Relax your groins and widen your hips. Slowly draw in and upward from your pelvic floor and low belly and get support to soften the pressure on your back. If it’s still not comfortable, you can bend your knees slightly. Reach for your feet or ankles very slowly, without creating any pressure on your back but maintaining the spine length.
Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana is a widely practised variation of the Paschimottanasana or intense stretch of the west pose. It can be done with the following simple steps:
- Lie straight on your back. Exhale while bending your knees towards your torso.
- Now inhale and extend your heels towards the ceiling.
- Exhale and bring your feet back down to rest them above your head.
- Remember not to lift the back of your pelvis from the floor.
You may use props such as folded blankets under the buttocks and also straps to enable a good and comfortable stretch.
Paschimottanasana for Beginners
A beginner’s forward bend cannot go very forward because of the tightness in the back of the legs. So, if you are a beginner, do not force yourself into a forward bend. And never begin this practice immediately after a meal.
If you are a beginner or new to this pose:
- Be very patient with the process. Do not round your back or hang your head down in space. That may put pressure on your vertebrae and cause damage to the discs.
- Practice Shalabhasana to build your back strength. Adopt the modifications mentioned above so that you can flex your hips and stretch your spine without much difficulty.
- You can try a few other preparatory poses, too like
- The Downward Dog Pose
- The Child’s Pose
- The Staff Pose, or
- The Forward Fold Pose
When you begin practising this seated forward bend pose, you need to listen to both your body and your breath. If you can’t hold on to the posture through three long breaths, it indicates that you have gone too deep and too fast. The best way to do it is to take time to find your depth in this pose.
Paschimottanasana, or the seated forward bend, is a very interesting posture with numerous benefits, the main being the stretching and alignment of the back and spine. Overall this posture stretches from head to the toe, which is a rare occurrence in a single posture. The focus is on the abdomen, which in turn is linked with the respiratory system; hence both abdominal and respiratory issues are resolved.
This yoga pose is said to have cured certain psychosomatic ailments which have no treatment in the medical world. If you haven’t yet started, you better do it right away, and with regular practice you will soon master this great pose.