Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

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How to do it

Begin in a seated position with legs extended forward, knees slightly bent, arms up.

Exhale: Gradually contract your abdomen and place the chest over your thighs bringing your hands down to your legs.

Inhale: Lengthen forward, lead with your chest and move all the way up, raising your arms up.

Repeat the movement several times and then stay in the pose.

Breathing in Paschimottanasana

INHALE: Lengthen the spine and expand the upper and middle back, moving the chest slightly away from the legs.

EXHALE: Progressively contract your abdomen as you pull yourself closer toward your thighs while keeping your spine long. Keep your knees slightly bent.

Pose adaptations

Hand slide

Paschimottanasana: Hand slide is an easier version of the pose that takes the arms out of the equation. That way the student is able to focus on the details of the spinal movement and still work on stretching the lower back without challenging it as much. This is a great way to introduce new students to the pose.

3 stages

Paschimottanasana 3 stages is an excellent way to work on developing more control over progressive abdominal contraction. It teaches you proper technique for this pose and stretches your lower back gradually, while maintaining the length of the spine. Segmented movement like this is also useful when you intend to lengthen your exhalation.

Arm sweep

Paschimottanasana: Arm sweep emphasizes the sensation in your upper back. On the way down, it helps to bring your awareness to your upper back and achieve a better stretch there. On the way up, it encourages you to actively engage your upper back and strengthen it. It also helps to relieve tension in the neck.

Cactus arms

Paschimottanasana: Cactus arms combines stretching and strengthening of the lower back and upper back. Keeping your arms out to the sides when you lift your upper body up increases circulation to the area between the shoulder blades and helps to release tension there. It’s useful to complete this movement with bringing your chest down to your thighs to stretch and relax the neck and upper back muscles after working them.

Feet on block

Paschimottanasana: Feet on block significantly deepens the pose and makes it more challenging. Placing the block again the soles of your feet intensifies the stretch in your calves and hamstrings. Holding on to the block with both hands deepens the stretch of the lower back, upper back and shoulders. As a result, the entire posterior (back) back surface of the body gets an intense stretch. Be sure to properly prepare your body for this challenge.

Knees bent

Paschimottanasana: Knees bent takes the hamstrings out of the equation and allows students with very tight hamstrings to experience the stretch in the lower and upper back. It is a less intense version of the pose, and can be used to calm and sooth the body. Draping your chest over the thighs and wrapping your arms under your knees gives your upper back a sense of width. It helps to stretch the areas between your shoulder blades and the back of the neck.

One arm raise

Paschimottanasana: one arm raise works great for strengthening your lower and upper back one side at a time. It is easier than the full version of the pose with both arms extended, and helps to illustrate spinal elongation in the pose.

Pulling on feet

Paschimottanasana: Pulling on feet helps to lengthen the spine, mobilize the ankles and stretch the calves. Here you use your feet for leverage to pull yourself deeper into the pose and experience a more intense stretch of all posterior (back) structure of the body – lower back, upper back, neck and hamstrings. This pose can be too intense for many students.

In chair

Paschimottanasana: In chair works great for students who cannot transition down to the ground, or those with very tight backs or hamstrings. Sitting in the chair allows you to safely adjust the angle of your knees and get a better stretch in your lower back. This pose works best if you sit on the edge of the chair, but make sure that you still feel stable and supported in this position.

Pillow under chest

Paschimottanasana: Pillow under chest works best for students who tend to exaggerate the curvature of the upper back as they move into the pose. Bending the knees more generously and placing a pillow under the chest provides more support. It allows the student to bring her chest closer to her thighs and safely experiment with lengthening of the spine in the pose.

Pillow under knees

Paschimottanasana: Pillow under knees provides more support for the legs and allows the student to fold deeper into the pose without the resistance of the hamstrings. That way the student can achieve better spinal elongation in the pose and better stretch in the lower and upper back.