Lengthen Your Spine With Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)…….


” Day after day let the yogi practice harmony of soul; in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing.” – Bhagavada Gita

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose) is a seated foundational pose, wherein, the upper body is folded forward over the legs and the forehead rests on the knees or below by bending the arms and griping the wrists beyond the outstretched feet. The word “Paschimottanasana” literally translates as “the stretching of the west” because in India it is traditional to face east, the land of the rising sun, both to pray and to practice asanas. So the “west” is the whole of the back of the body, from the heels and the Achilles tendons to the crown of the head and the backs of the hands and tips of the fingers. The real purpose of this asana is to facilitate the movement of the breath in the back.

In Paschimottanasana, the two sitting bones – the hard knobs you can feel under the  buttocks – become your roots. Tight hamstrings, which many Westerners, particularly male, can suffer from, make all the sitting poses that have legs straight out along the floor extremely difficult, and Pachimottanasana is the purest of these, providing not extra frills to distract the mind from the matter at hand,

With tight hamstrings it is quite impossible to bring the torso forward without bending the knees right up off the floor.  This is when people make the mistake of trying to yank themselves into the Forward Bend, striving to get their heads onto their knees by force.  But this is not what the pose is about. The old adage that for yoga one must have infinite patience and no ambition is the absolute prerequisite for progress in Paschimottanasana if your hamstrings are tight.

First, when you are sitting with your legs stretched out in front of you, the weight of the hips must anchor you down. If all you achieve at this stage is a slumped back, then lean back into your hands, and feel how your hips can weigh you down when the muscles in your back are not struggling against the hamstrings to hold you up.  When you can sit upright without discomfort, feeling heavy in the base of the pose, then on the exhalation, with relaxed shoulders and a flat back, you can begin to lengthen forward, leaving the hips behind.  Stretch upwards as you breath in and move forward as you find extra length with the out breath.  Eventually your chest will touch your thighs and in that position the spine can go on lengthening with every exhalation.

Written by Kathy Philips, The Spirit of Yoga


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