Instructor: Sarah N.
Sarah has completed an intensive yoga teacher training program in Pune, India at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Institute. She has been inspired to continue practicing and teaching yoga for life.

Seated Forward Bend Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions


Paschimottanasana is an extreme Seated Forward Bend that you fold over into when you need to unwind from a stressful day.

Step by Step Pose Information Benefits Variations Partnering

Paschimottanasana

(Pronounced as "puhsh-chee-moh-TAN-AHS-anna")

Paschima is a Sanskrit word meaning "west," and it refers here to an intense stretch of the entire back of your body from the heels to the head. In yogic philosophy, the backside of your body is the Western side. The Eastern side is your front side since you should practice while facing the sun.

How to do Seated Forward Bend

Step One

Sit down on your yoga mat and stretch out your legs straight in front of you. Take a deep breath. Reach underneath you to grab the flesh around your outer hips and spread it out to the sides, allowing you to sit directly on top of both sitting bones. Keep your legs straight and press your thighs down into the floor. Press your palms down into the floor by the sides of your hips and lift your sternum up high.

Step Two

Then as you exhale, stretch your hands forward and grab your toes. You can grab the sides of your feet with your hands if it's too difficult to grab the toes. Another option is to grab your ankles if you cannot reach the feet at all. Try to clasp each of your big toes in between the thumbs and first fingers of each hand. Continue lifting your sternum up toward the ceiling while you maintain your grip on the toes. Arch your back to make it more concave. Bend forward all the way from your pelvis and extend your arms out from the shoulders to flatten and concave the back into the proper shape that you need to get the full extension of your back.

Step Three

If you cannot bend further forward, then hold this position for as long as you can. Otherwise, after you've taken a few breaths, exhale as you bend your elbows out to the sides and use your elbows as levers to help pull your trunk forward so that your forehead can rest on your knees. Keep raising your head as you lengthen your front torso to bend forward. Make sure your belly reaches your thighs first, then your chest should reach your thighs, and your head should reach your knees last.

Step Four

Every time that you inhale, lift your sternum up a little more. Every time you exhale, bend forward a little more from your pelvis. Make sure that your thighs will press down more into the floor then your calves do. Balance your weight evenly across both of your sitting bones.

Step Five

Hold the posture for at least 30 seconds in the beginning. As you practice the pose more over time, you can increase the duration up to 5 minutes. To come out of the pose, inhale as you lift the head first, then the arms and then the upper back. Finally, the lower back should come up last.

Beginner's Tip:

If you feel a lot of strain in your back while trying to bend forward, then make the pose even easier by placing a chair over your outstretched legs like a bridge. Then rest your forehead on the seat of the chair. By holding the ends of a yoga belt wrapped around your feet and keeping your head on the front edge of the chair seat, you will loosen up your hamstrings and legs, preparing your back to bend forward more in the future without hurting yourself.

Pose Information

Sanskrit Name:

Paschimottanasana

Pose Level:

Level 1

Contraindications and Cautions:

  • Breathing problems such as asthma
  • Diarrhea and other irregular bowel movements
  • Recent injuries to muscles in the backs of your knees
  • For back injuries less than 3 months old: practice this pose under the supervision of a yoga teacher with experience in physical therapy.

Modifications and Props:

If you have a hard time trying to grab your ankles, then sit on one bolster and put a yoga belt around the balls of your feet. That way you can hold one end of the belt in each hand instead of trying to grab your feet. You can also make the pose more comfortable so that you can stay in it longer by stacking two bolsters on top of your knees. Then adjust the position of the bolsters to rest your forehead on top of them. This variation will release tight neck muscles and help develop flexibility in your back. As you practice more, you can eventually do the pose without sitting on a support and gradually lower the height of your headrest as well. Then you will be able to grab your feet.

Deepen the Pose:

Once it becomes easy for you to grip your big toes and bend your elbows out to the sides while your head rests on your knees, then you are ready to go further. Keeping your head resting against your legs, reach your arms further forward so that your toes press into the insides of your wrists. Then fold your hands down and grip your feet, pressing your palms into the soles of your feet with your fingers pointing toward the heels. If you can go further, then inhale as you look up and exhale while extending your hands forward past your feet to interlock your fingers or grab your wrist behind your feet. Then let your chin rest on your shins.

Benefits

  • Relaxes your heart
  • Calms overworked adrenal glands
  • Tones the pancreas, kidneys and bladder
  • Strengthens the liver and boosts digestion
  • Promotes reproductive health
  • Relieves excess mental tension
  • Stretches out the back, hamstrings and hips
  • Helps relieve painful symptoms of menopause and menstruation
  • Reduces headaches

Variations

To get an even deeper release in the back and legs, try another version of this pose: Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana. The Sanskrit words urdhva mukha mean the "upward facing" version of paschimottanasana.

Lie down on your yoga mat on your back. Exhale as you raise your legs up straight in the air. Grab your feet with your hands so that your feet are directly above your head. Interlock your fingers around your feet if you can. Take a deep breath. Now on your next exhalation, pull your elbows out toward your sides and bring your feet down until your toes can touch the floor behind your head. Keep your legs straight. Try to keep your pelvis as close to the floor as you can. Hold it for 30 seconds or up to a minute if possible.

Partnering

Ask a partner to help you while you perform this pose. Your partner should stand behind you and face your back. Lean forward and grab your feet as you normally would to practice this pose. Then your partner should bend down and press their palms into the middle of your back, putting a hand on each side of your spine. Let them know if you want more or less pressure and exhale to move deeper into the stretch. Not only should they press down, but they should also press down and forward to help lengthen your back muscles. Focus on extending your torso forward all the way from your buttocks while they help you go further into it.

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