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Forward Bend Yoga Poses

Master Paschimottanasana in 6 Steps

Stretch the back of your entire body, open your hips, and create a state of inner calm.

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NEXT STEP IN YOGAPEDIA 3 Ways to Modify Paschimottanasana

Paschima = Western · Uttana = Intense stretch · Asana = Pose


Stretches the back of your entire body, from your heels to your head; helps to open your hips; strengthens your agni (digestive fire); creates a state of inner calm


Before exploring any particular asana, first complete at least three rounds of Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A).

1. For Paschimottanasana, begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). At the end of an exhalation, step (or jump) to a seated position.

2. Straighten your legs and place your hands next to the flesh of your outer hips. Bring your legs together with the insides of your feet touching. Flex your feet by drawing your toes toward you, and simultaneously press out through the balls of your feet. Activate your thigh muscles by drawing them up, away from your kneecaps. Draw your low belly softly toward your spine. Let your shoulders move back, and begin to breathe into your chest and your entire rib cage.

3. Keeping the activation of your legs and low belly, reach forward to hold your big toes, the sides of your feet, or a wrist beyond your flexed feet.

4. Maintaining the hold, inhale and lift your chest, lengthening your abdomen and sides. Gently relax your shoulders away from your ears.

5. As you exhale, begin to move deeper into a forward fold. Try not to pull with your arms. Instead, keep your shoulders relaxed. Bend your elbows and bow your head, gazing toward your legs. Relax your neck and let your breath move freely.

6. Keep gently drawing your low belly toward your spine, lifting your waist off your thighs. On inhalations, feel a broadening of your chest and a lengthening in the front of your torso. On exhalations, feel a widening
in your upper back as you continue to relax your shoulders. Hold for at least 5 breaths. To exit the posture, inhale and lengthen your torso upward while straightening your arms. Complete a full exhalation before releasing your feet.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Chris Fanning

Don’t let your feet or knees turn out. This overstretches your inner knees and brings the stretch out of the belly of your hamstrings, closer to your joints.

Chris Fanning

Don’t round and harden your back, pushing your torso away from your legs. This will create tension and inhibit your breath, which can strain your back.

See also Master Hero Pose (Virasana) in 5 Steps

About Our Pro
Teacher and model Erika Halweil began teaching yoga in 1998 and has since devoted herself to the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga. Her teachers include K. Pattabhi Jois, Tim Miller, and Eddie Stern. She lives in Sag Harbor, New York, with her husband, Corey De Rosa (owner of Tapovana Ashtanga Healing Center), and their daughters, Milla and Neelu. She teaches at Tapovana and Yoga Shanti and offers private lessons (