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Paschimottanasana
Seat Borward Bend Pose


Prepare the Ground
There are a number of poses that can physically prepare you for Paschimottanasana. They include Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), for the deep abdominal and inner hip release it provides; Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), in which your spine is lengthened by the pull of gravity; Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose), an effective hip opener and hamstring stretch; and Padmasana (Lotus Pose), which releases holding in the upper thigh.

Three hip openers, in particular, can dramatically improve Paschimottanasana. The first is Balasana (Child's Pose); by resting your torso on your thighs, this simple pose gives you a taste of the sensation of ease and calm that can saturate the body in a deep forward bend. The second is a variation of Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose), and the last I call "Leg over Shoulder." Let's look in depth at these last two.

To prepare for this variation of Janu Sirsasana, sit upright with the soles of your feet together and knees apart in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). If you cannot sit with your pelvis at a right angle to your legs and your spine straight, I suggest you place a folded blanket under your hips buttocks to make it easier to rotate the pelvis forward. Exhale and straighten your left leg on the floor in front of you. Roll to the outside of your left hip and leg, letting your right knee and hip lift off the floor. Place your hands on the floor to the outside of your left leg and far enough forward so their position contributes to the forward bend (Figure 1). If you are particularly flexible, try bending your right elbow and bracing it against the outside of your lower left leg for a more challenging stretch.

By leaning to the right, you are using gravity to your advantage: Your abdomen relaxes toward the right hip, centering your torso over your right leg and thus creating a slight rotation of the spine that gently stretches the lower back. Help make your hip more receptive by relaxing the groin deeply with each exhalation. Don't be afraid to let go. Gradually, your hip joint will open and you may feel a slight stretch across the sacrum as your spine moves to the right. The deep penetration into your hip joint will increase as you linger and your ability to soften and dissolve muscular resistance increases. You can further enhance the effect by imagining the abdomen spinning clockwise, like a wheel, into the hip. Paschimottanasana benefits greatly from this asana, which targets the hip for intensive opening and also gently reduces the lower back tightness that can restrict the forward bend. When you are ready, come out of the pose and repeat it on the left side.

Another very effective preparatory pose involves draping your leg over the back of your shoulder or upper arm. This hip opening action is part of several asanas, including Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and Eka Hasta Bhujasana (One Leg Over Arm Pose). Be careful, though, because it stretches the sacral and lumbar areas and can exacerbate strain if your lower back is sensitive. Eventually, this deep stretch can be quite therapeutic-but don't rush it.

Sit on the floor or on a folded blanket, as in Janu Sirsasana, and stretch your legs straight in front of you. Raise your right leg, bend the knee, and reach your right arm along the inside of the right leg to hold your calf. Now for the fun part: Breathe in and lean back slightly, then exhale as you push your right leg back and place it over your shoulder or upper arm. (You want the back of your knee to rest as close to the shoulder as possible.)

Pause to collect yourself. Put your right hand on the floor and gently press your arm out into your leg to deepen the hip opening. At the same time, use your left hand on the sole of your right foot to draw the leg farther back and open the hip even more (Figure 2).

The position of your leg on the shoulder requires that your back be able to round. Indeed, the stretch the back muscles receive helps you to create the fluid spine needed for Paschimottanasana. But avoid overrounding your back: Keep your chest broad and make sure you are able to maintain a steady rhythm in your breathing. This is not the time to be aggressive. Hold this pose but a few breaths if you find it extremely difficult. Several short repetitions are better than straining to prolong the position. Don't worry: You'll still notice the work on your hip when you move on to Paschimotanasana. When you're ready, release the pose and repeat on the other side.

Paschimottanasana
Seat Borward Bend Pose

» Demonstrations

» Different Strokes

» Prepare the Ground

» A Delicate Balance

» Bolstering Your Practice

Benefits
• Tones abdominal organs and kidneys
• Stretches legs and spine
• Calms the nerves
• Quiets the mind

Contraindications
• Lumber disc injuries
• Sacrolliac strain
• Acute depression
• If pregnant, position legs wider apart

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© 2001 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal