Paschimottanasana or seated forward bending posture is a technically intense western stretch, since Paschima means west in Sanskrit and Uttana means intense stretch. Paschimottanasana stretches the back portion of your body, mainly the spine, the hips and the back of the legs. If you face tightness in your hamstrings and are not able to stretch forward fully, do not force the upper body. You can use a thick blanket and sit on its edge to relieve the tension in the back and the legs, support your pelvis area, and keep your spine straight.
Procedure of Paschimottanasana
- You should sit on the floor with your buttocks having a support from a folded blanket and you should keep your legs stretched straight in front of your body. You should press the floor actively with your heels. Your toes should point towards the ceiling. You should inhale and raise your hands on your head, stretching and lengthening the spine. The palms should be kept apart by the length of your shoulders.
- You should exhale and bend your body forward from your hips, while stretching your hands towards your feet. If it is possible, try to catch your toes with your fingers. Initially, many people will find this difficult. You need no force yourself and you can catch hold of the sides of your feet or your legs as far away as possible. Slowly, you will be able to stretch your hands and catch your toes with your hands.
- You should drop your pelvis forward and further down so that the spine lengthens to the maximum extent without strain. You should keep your shoulders and neck relaxed. If possible, you can bend forward until your head is between your knees. Otherwise, bend your back to the maximum possible extent. Over time, the stretching will improve.
- You should press forward with your heels and your head, while pressing back through your sitting bones.
- You can remain in this position for 15 seconds to 30 seconds initially. With practice, you will be able to remain in this position even for five minutes.
- You should slowly inhale and come back to the original sitting position.
Benefits of Paschimottanasana
Paschimottanasana calms your brain and relieves stress, as well as mild depression. This asana stretches your spine, shoulders and hamstrings fully. Further, it stimulates your liver, kidneys, uterus and ovaries. It improves digestion. Paschimottanasana relieves symptoms of menopause in women and reduces menstrual discomfort. It reduces fatigue and anxiety and soothes headaches. Paschimottanasana is highly therapeutic for insomnia, infertility, sinusitis and high blood pressure. It reduces obesity and abdominal fat. While Sarvangasana stimulates your endocrine glands, Paschimottanasana is best for stimulation of your abdominal viscera like liver, kidneys and pancreas. Since it increases the peristalsis of your bowels, the vermicular movement of your bowels and intestines through which the faecal and food matters are pushed in the bowels, it is a very good asana for constipation. Paschimottanasana is also a good cure for piles and diabetes. It tones up the hip muscles, the epigastric plexus of your nerves, the solar plexus of your nerves, the lumbar nerves, the sympathetic cord and bladder prostrate, keeping them in healthy and sound condition.
Precautions and Contraindications
Persons with asthma, diarrhea and back injury should not perform this asana. People with lower back problems or slipped discs should not do this asana. It is advisable to perform Paschimottanasana initially under the guidance of an experienced yoga master until you become perfect in this asana.
Variation of Paschimottanasana
You should lie down on the floor and bend your knees towards your torso while exhaling. Then you should inhale and extend your heels towards the ceiling. Slowly, you should swing your feet exhaling, so that they are above your head. Your pelvis should not lift much from the ground. This is known as Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana and it is different from Sarvangasana or Halasana.
Preparatory and Follow-Up Poses
You can perform Balasana, Janusirsasana and Uttanasana before Paschimottanasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana.
Swami Shivananda of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, India, one of the first proponents of Ashtanga Yoga in the last century, used to stress repeatedly that just three asanas, namely Paschimottanasana, Sarvangasana and Sirasasana are enough to keep any person healthy and other asanas are not that important.