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Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) is a foundational pose that many yoga practitioners breeze past. But extending the top half of the body over the seated lower half helps stretch the entire back of you body to enhance your physical flexibility. Folding inward in this way also brings mental calm.
“Forward bends are a struggle for most of us,” says yoga teacher Barbara Benagh. “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.” Too much exercise and too much sitting can result in tight hips, back, and legs. Pascimottanasana helps to counter that.
“Explore the mental patterns you’re bringing to the asana—an urge to push or a tendency to give up and space out—and redirect your attention to the sensations of letting go,” says Benagh. “As you deepen your pose by doing less, you may recognize how emotions stored in the body can mimic physical inflexibility—and your pose will most likely begin to move.”
Seated Forward Bend basics
Sanskrit: Paschimottanasana (POSH-ee-moh-tan-AHS-ah-nah)
Pose type: Forward bend
Targets: Lower body
Why we love it: “This looks like such an easy, even lazy, pose: You just drape your upper body over your legs and there you have it. And if you have long hamstrings like I do, the pose is easy peasy,” says Yoga Journal‘s Senior Editor Tamara Jeffries. “But practicing with intention means paying attention to lengthening the legs, releasing the hips and buttocks, and extending the whole length of the spine. You also have to remember to activate the quads and make space for the front of your body. I like being able to play with the hand position, too.”
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In addition to calming your mind and relieving stress, this pose stretches your spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. It also stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus—and can help improve digestion.
Seated Forward Fold: Step-by-step instructions
- Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose), sitting on the edge of a folded blanket. Press your heels away from your body; press your palms or finger tips into the floor beside your hips.
- Inhale. Keeping your front torso long, exhale and lean forward from your hips. Lengthen the spine to fold toward your legs, without rounding your back.
- Walk your hands out along the outside of each leg as far as they will go. If you can reach them, hold the sides of your feet with your hands.
- With each inhalation, lift and lengthen your front torso just slightly; with each exhalation, release a little more fully into the forward bend. If you are holding your feet, bend your elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor.
- Stay in the pose from 1–3 minutes. To come up, release your feet. Inhale and lift your torso by pulling your tailbone down and into the pelvis.
Resist the urge to dive your head and shoulders down toward your shins; doing so will cause you to round your upper back. Pascimottanasana maintains a flat back.
Use these cues to help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Flex your feet and actively press your heels forward. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor.
- If you need more space for your stomach or chest, separate your legs slightly—no wider than the width of your hips.
- For people with tight hamstrings, bending your knees will make the pose more accessible. This also puts less pressure on your abdomen and diaphragm.
Variation: Seated Forward Bend with a strap
If your hamstrings are tight, practice with a strap around the feet. (If you’re extremely stiff, sit on a folded blanket or place a rolled up blanket under your knees.) Keeping your spine mostly neutral, you lean forward into the pose as far as you can comfortably go. Hold the strap taut and press your feet into it as you pull back to straighten your arms. Inhale to lengthen your spine, and exhale to hinge forward slightly. Continue this very subtle motion for several breaths to a few minutes.