The Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana
followed by The Inclined Plane
Paschimottanasana, the seated forward bend, is the fifth of the 12 basic postures of hatha yoga. There are many benefits of this posture, the main and most obvious one is to provide a complete stretch of the entire backside of the body from the back of the head through the heels. Immediately following this is the counterstretch, the inclined plane.
- Stretches the hamstrings on the back of the legs
- Stretches and lengthens the entire spine
- Massages the internal organs, especially the digestive organs
- Relieves digestive problems such as constipation
- Relieves problems with sciatica
- Invigorates the nervous system
Energetic (Pranic) Benefits
- Stimulates manipura chakra (solar plexus center)
- Balances the prana within the body
- Calms the mind
- Improves concentration
Paschimottanasana begins by coming up to a seated position.
- Sit up straight with your legs together, stretched out in front of you. Point both feet straight up towards the ceiling.
- Be sure you are sitting straight up on the sitbones with your spine straight. Many people benefit at this point by removing the flesh from underneath the sitbones so as to help remove curvature in the spine.
- Inhale, and stretch your arms up over your head. Following the direction of your hands, at the same time lengthen the entire spine upwards.
- Exhale and bend forward from the hips keeping your spine as elongated as possible and reaching towards your feet with your hands as you come down.
- If you can reach your feet, the ideal hand position is to wrap your index fingers around the big toes, with the thumbs resting on tops of the big toes.
- If you cannot reach your feet yet, let your hands fall comfortably on top of the shins or thighs, or alongside the legs on the floor, or wherever they can comfortably rest.
- For this posture, try to avoid a lot of curvature in middle part of the spine. It is best to keep the back more straight, although not rigid, and bend from the hip area.
- Be sure to keep the feet pointed straight up towards the ceiling and together.
- Once in position, you can gently pull with the arms on the feet or legs, stretching the head more towards the feet and giving an additional stretch to the spine and backs of the legs.
- As you continue to hold the posture, relax as much as possible, especially in the shoulders and hips. With each exhale let your breath do the work - ideally the abdomen should fall closer toward the thighs, the chest toward the knees and the head towards the feet.
- Hold the asana for 30 seconds at first and work up to 5 minutes or more.
To come out of the seated forward bend, inhale and stretch your hands past your feet, come up with a flat back stretching your arms and spine up as your body comes up. Exhale and relax the arms down.
Because in the West we tend to sit on soft, comfortable furniture, this deceptively easy-looking asana can take a long time to perfect. The muscles of the hips and backs of the legs are very powerful and can take awhile to loosen before one can come fully into this pose. However, you can get the proper benefits of the posture by holding as still as possble at whatever stage you are at, with the understanding that with regular practice over time you will be able to make significant progress in this asana.
This most excellent of all asanas, Paschimottanasana, makes the breath flow through the Sushumna, rouses the gastric fire, makes the loins lean, and removes all diseases. Hatha Yoga Pradipika,
Chapter 1, verse 29
The Inclined Plane
The inclined plane is the counterstretch to the seated forward bend and follows immediately afterward. The inclined plane increases strength and flexibility in the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back, and improves balance.
- Bring your hands behind you on the mat with your fingertips pointed away from the body.
- Inhale deeply, drop your head back and lift your hips as high as you can.
- Your hands and feet should be on the floor with the body lifted as high as possible in between, lifting up with the muscles of the lower back, legs straight. Your head should drop behind you with the neck relaxed.
- Try to bring the bottoms of the feet flat to the floor.
- Hold the asana for 10 to 30 seconds.
To come out of the inclined plane, exhale and release the hips back down to the floor.
The seated forward bend is part of the basic yoga class.