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Forward Bend Yoga Poses

Seated Forward Bend

Fold into Paschimottanasana to help a distracted mind—and your hamstrings—unwind.

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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 YJ 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.  But you also have to remember to activate the quads and make space for the front of your body, too.  I like being able to play with the hand position, too.

Join Outside+ today to get access to exclusive pose information, including our complete guide to Forward Fold, featuring video instruction, anatomy know-how, and additional pose variations. 

Pose benefits

In addition to calming your mind and relieving stress, this pose stretches your spine, shoulders and hamstrings. This posture also stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries and uterus—and can help improve digestion.

Seated Forward Fold: Step-by-step instructions

Woman demonstrates Seated Forward Bend
  1. 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.
  2. Inhale. Keeping your front torso long, exhale and lean forward from your hips. Lengthen the spine fold toward your legs, without rounding your back.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Stay in the pose from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, release your feet. Inhale and lift your torso by pulling your tailbone down and into the pelvis.

Beginners’ tip

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.

Teaching Seated Forward Fold

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

Woman demonstrates a variation of Seated Forward Bend
(Photo: Christopher Dougherty)

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.

Preparatory poses

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

Dandasana (Staff Pose)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Counter poses

Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank Pose)

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Join Outside+ today to get access to exclusive pose information, including our complete guide to Seated Forward Fold, featuring video instruction, anatomy know-how, and additional pose variations. You’ll also get access to members-only content, sequences, and classes, a subscription to Yoga Journal magazine, meal plans and recipes, and more.