Seat Borward Bend Pose
by Barbara Benagh
The influence of mind can be observed throughout your practice, but forward bends, particularly prolonged forward bends, are especially fertile ground for cultivating the understanding that yoga must involve so much more than physical effort. The simplicity and symmetry of Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) makes it an ideal asana in which to examine the ebb and flow of the mind.
Paschimottanasana is also called Stretch of the West, a name I prefer because it poetically evokes the ancient ritual of yogis facing the sunrise as they practiced. (Paschima means "West" in Sanskrit, and the yogis were literally stretching the west side of the body as they bent toward the sun). Like other forward bends, Paschimottanasana, when practiced appropriately, provides practical physical benefits. Most obviously, forward bends stretch the muscles of the lower spine, pelvis, and legs. In addition, the upper back, kidneys, and adrenal glands are stretched and stimulated, thus making Paschimottanasana a potentially therapeutic pose for those with respiratory or kidney problems as well as for those who suffer from adrenal exhaustion. When a student's pose has progressed to the point where the torso rests on the legs, the pose provides added benefits: a massage to the abdominal organs and a profound calming effect.
While this information may motivate you to practice Seated Forward Bend, alas it makes the pose no easier. Quite simply, forward bends are a struggle for most of us. Many of the things we do for fitness, such as running and weight training, make us strong at the expense of flexibility. Sitting at a desk all day doesn't help, either. Therefore, if you're a stiff or more beginning student, I suggest you introduce forward bends during the latter part of a practice, when your body is thoroughly warm. This advice goes double if you have lower back troubles.
Having said this, let me note that I now actually like to do Paschimottanasana near the beginning of my practice. Starting close to the floor can be deeply grounding. Also, warming up by attention to "undoing" tight muscles, instead of by a lot of movement, can set a deep, introspective tone that persists throughout your practice. But I recommend you try this approach only if you are flexible enough to bring your torso close to your legs without effort. I'll make a confession. This forward bend has been a difficult pose for me. I have empathy for your struggle, but I can testify that Paschimottanasana's benefits are well worth the effort. Many times I have seen other students resting on their legs, seemingly at ease, and longed for their experience. This asana has taught me much about humility, strategy, and surrender. Only in recent years has my experience been what I imagined it could be: deep inner focus and peace. Unless you're already extremely flexible, my advice is to begin this pose with little thought of bending all the way to your legs. Paschimottanasana, for most yogis, is achieved slowly and with great patience.
• Tones abdominal organs and kidneys
• Stretches legs and spine
• Calms the nerves
• Quiets the mind
• Lumber disc injuries
• Sacrolliac strain
• Acute depression
• If pregnant, position legs wider apart