Paschimottanasana: The Forward Bend Pose for A Calm Mind & Flexible Body
Paschimottasana is a classic yoga pose mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, written by the Indian Yogi, Swatmarama about five hundred years ago. The word ‘Paschimottasana’ is composed of three Sanskrit words – ‘Paschima’, which means west or the back of the body, ‘Uttana’ meaning an intense stretch, and ‘Asana’, which means pose. In English, it is also called the ‘Seated Forward Bend’, or ‘Intense Dorsal Stretch’.
Paschimottanasana completely stretches the back muscles and helps the practitioner to get a very flexible body. As the back muscles are a bit stiff in most adults, yoga enthusiasts need to practice and learn to do the pose over a while.
The Paschimottanasana yoga pose is performed in a sitting position with the hands touching the toes and then bending forwards in a way that the head lies between the legs. The head may not reach the legs in the earlier attempts, but that’s fine. The body will gradually gain the flexibility to do that with regular practice. So, it is advised to bend only to the extent of one’s ability in the initial stages.
How to Do Paschimottanasana Yoga Pose?
- Start by sitting on the floor in Dandasana or the Staff pose with your legs stretched straight in front of your body or on your thighs.
- Raise your hands above your head.
- Now, inhale while keeping your spine up and straight.
- As you exhale, slowly bend forward towards your toes as much as your body permits.
- Remain in this position for a few seconds and breathe normally and slowly.
- To release from this position, raise your head and slowly come back to the initial starting position with the legs stretched.
- One can also perform this asana by lying down on the floor with the hands stretched behind the head as the initial position. After rising from this position, one can repeat the rest of the Paschimottanasana steps.
- After the Paschimottanasana yoga is complete, it is advisable to perform any asana that involves bending backward as a counter stretch.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
While performing the Paschimottanasana, make sure that your knees are aligned and not turned outwards. Or else, it would reduce the stretch of your hamstrings and the stress will instead fall closer to the joints.
Throughout the procedure, the back must remain straight. This helps you to take full breaths.
Paschimottanasana Contraindications and Precautions
Although everybody should practice yoga to maintain health and well-being, certain poses are not for everyone. Here are a few points to consider before you practice Paschimottanasana.
- It is best to get started with this asana under the guidance of a certified yoga instructor.
- Initially, it is difficult to bend yourself fully. That comes with practice. Don’t force yourself into the pose and do what is possible without pain.
- Your abdomen is compressed during the pose. So, it shouldn’t be done on a full stomach.
- Pregnant women can practice this asana but with their legs separated to avoid stress on the navel area and the fetus. They must instead expand their chest upwards.
- This pose must be avoided if you have injured arms, shoulders, hips, or ankles. Avoid this asana if you have asthma or diarrhea as well.
- In case you have herniated vertebral discs, it is recommended to practice the asana without bending forward completely.
- If you have hamstring injuries, you can practice the asana by bending your knees instead of keeping your legs straight.
Modifications & Variations
As already mentioned, you have to be patient with the progress that you make with the asana. Rounding the back or hanging the head down in the attempt to perfect the pose isn’t going to do you any good. Rather, it can lead to back pain or damage to your vertebral discs over time.
A good way to perfect the Paschimottanasana is to develop strength in the back muscles, which can be done by practicing the Shalabhasana pose. Also known as the locust pose or the grasshopper pose, it can improve your ability to flex at the hips and elongate the spine during the Paschimottanasana pose.
There are some variations you can try out if the Paschimottanasana pose feels very tough for you, which are as follows.
- If your knees are stiff, you can try placing a yoga bolster or a blanket underneath your knees to support them. Over time, the stiffness will be reduced.
- You can use the yoga bolster or blanket in case your chest is away from your thighs. Just put it on your thighs and bring your chest onto the prop. Use a yoga strap around the soles of your feet if you are unable to reach them.
- If you have trouble keeping your legs straight, you can sit on a yoga cushion to lift the hips and add mobility to your pelvis. Another option is to bend the knees and hold one’s feet. The rest of the process to perform the asana will be the same.
Benefits of Paschimottanasana
The Paschimottanasana pose stretches the back muscles right from the ankles to the head. As it contracts the anterior part of the body, the resulting pressure impacts the abdomen and thorax which aids in enhancing the respiratory system of the body. Moreover, the asana also ensures that the intra-abdominal glands function well.
Other Paschimottanasana benefits can be summarized as follows.
- Improves blood circulation in the back and tones up the body and the spinal cord
- Stimulates the Kundalini, spiritual energy at the base of the spine
- Helps in soothing the mind and offer relief from stress, anxiety, and depression
- Good for the kidneys, liver, uterus, and ovaries
- Alleviates problems like insomnia, high blood pressure, sinusitis
- Reduces body fatigue
- Improves appetite, digestion, and reduces obesity
- Offers relief from menopause and menstrual discomfort