Paschimottanasana, Seated Forward Bend
पश्चिमोत्तानासन / Paścimottānāsana
paschim : “west, back, back of body”
uttana: “intense stretch, straight, extended”
Paschimottanasana (PASH-ee-moh-tan-AH-suh-nuh), or the Seated Forward Bend, is one of the most important poses in all of Hatha Yoga.
It is one of the 15 poses outlined in the classic yogic text The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which dates back to the 15th century, and is common to virtually all systems of Asana, or postural practice; from slow-paced restorative styles to vigorous flowing styles.
10 Top Benefits Of Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
1. Lengthens the Hamstrings
The most obvious effect of Paschimottanasana is that it stretches the back of the leg. Tight hamstrings can often lead to a hunched, rounded posture and could be an indirect cause of back injury. If the muscles of the leg aren’t sufficiently elastic, it can also put a strain on the knee and hip joint. Paschimottanasana can help to maintain the legs natural range of motion.
2. Strengthens the Back
When performed in an active way, lengthening through the front of the body. Paschimottanasana is a great way to strengthen the erector spinae muscles of the lower back and help to encourage an energetic and upright posture.
3. Reduces anxiety and overwhelm
Paschimottanasana is one of the key poses of both Yin and Restorative Yoga. In these systems, it is performed in a passive variation, often with props placed under the sitting bones, under the knees or between the trunk and the legs. When held for a long period of time, this pose has a calming effect on the nervous system and encourages deep release and relaxation.
4. Prepares The Body For Meditation
Paschimottanasana encourages a strong, upright posture conducive to meditation. At the same time, it increases blood flow, which has an energizing effect and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a calm and focused mind. This combination of invigoration and relaxation is ideal for states of meditation.
5. Helps with Sleep
Since Paschimottanasana relaxes the nervous system, it can be used to help with symptoms of insomnia if used correctly. It’s important to do the pose restoratively, without pushing or pulling, and it’s also important to do it at least 2 hours before you intend to fall asleep. Because of the increased blood flow and the stimulation of the lower energy centers, the initial effects may be invigorating, and they will need some time to pass for sleep to come easily.
6. Stimulates Digestion and Appetite
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Paschimottanasana “stimulates the gastric fire.” Though the evidence is anecdotal, most long-term yogis know from personal experience that a lot of forward bending stimulates both digestion and appetite. The pose gently massages the intestines and the organs of the abdominal region, helping to clear out blockages and relieve bloating.
7. Sexual Health
Performed correctly, with the engagement of the pelvic floor and the transverse abdominis muscles of the lower abdomen, Paschimottanasana increases blood flow to the reproductive organs and can help to increase sexual vitality and relieve mild impotence.
8. Counteracts Obesity
It is said in numerous texts, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, that Paschimottanasana helps to remove the belly fat and can contribute to weight loss. It’s important to note that the best way to lose weight with yoga is a complete holistic practice that includes mindful diet and lifestyle choices. However, emphasizing forward bending postures may be helpful.
9. Relieves Menstrual Discomfort
By stimulating blood flow to the pelvic region, a gentle, restorative version of Paschimottanasana can help to relieve symptoms of cramping and bloating associated with menstruation. Try placing a bolster or pillow over your lap first to reduce pressure in the abdomen.
10. Encourages Contemplation and Self-reflection
There is a subtle energetic aspect of this pose that is easily overlooked. By drawing our attention to the back of the body and taking a bowed posture where the front of the body is drawn in on itself, we adopt a gesture of surrender and introversion. By focusing our attention away from the external world we can balance out some of the energies of striving and ambition that can help to feed our anxieties.
Those with a disc-related condition or sciatica should avoid this pose or enter it cautiously. Keep the back concaved to avoid further compression. Women who are menstruating or pregnant should not go all the way down to the legs but keep the back concaved with the feet apart and abdomen soft. Sit on a folded blanket if hamstrings are tight.
How to do Paschimottanasana (Step by Step Video Instructions)
To perform the posture, simply sit on the floor with your legs facing out in front. Begin by sitting in an upright position, rooting down through the sitting bones and reaching the crown of the head towards the ceiling. Keep the legs together, with the ball of the big toes touching.
Reach the hands forward and take hold of the big toes with index and middle finger. If this is not possible simply place the palms of the hands on the floor next to the legs, or modify the pose with a belt or strap wrapped around the feet.
On an inhale, lift the chin slightly, expanding through the chest. Then, on an exhale, fold forward, hinging mainly at the hips. Don’t pull with your arms. Rather, move using the deep core muscles of the legs and abdomen.
Try not to round the back. If the back is rounding excessively, if there is any tension or pressure in the knees, or if the poses are simply uncomfortable, bend the knees generously, or don’t go quite so deep.
Breathe deeply into the whole trunk.