Paschimottanasana

Seated forward bend

Intense stretch to the west side of the body (the back of the body)
Paschim = west; uttana = stretched out; asana = pose

B.K.S Iyengar also refers to the pose as:
Brahmacharyasana: brahmacharya = religious study, self restraint and celibacy.
Ugrasana: ugra = formidable, powerful and noble.

How to do the pose

Sit up with a straight spine, straight legs and feet flexed (dorsal flexion). Inhale, raise the arms (shoulder flexion) and stretch spine upward.

Exhale, fold forward (hip flexion) and stretch the arms forward. Lift the sternum and aim the chin towards the toes (not head to knee). Hold the toes (or shins if the toes cannot be reached).

Inhale, lift the head and sternum, further elongate the spine – leaning forward from the hip joints (not the waist). Exhale, pull with the hands (dorsiflexing the ankles) and lower head down.

Repeat 2-3 times, holding for 5 breaths each time.
Inhale and lift torso (hip extension) to finish.

Further alignments/deepening the pose

Activate mula bandha after exhaling and pull navel to spine
Lengthen tailbone away from back of pelvis
As the pose becomes easier: hold the big toes, then the soles of the feet, then clasp the hands, then try to hold the wrist with the opposite hand.
Actively statically stretch the hamstrings by contracting the quadriceps, iliopsoas and biceps.
Stretch the gastrocnemius by contracting the quadriceps to extend the knees.
Use the breath to help surrender into the pose – try to relax and release the muscles.

Variations

Never force yourself into a forward bend:
Hold shins if cannot reach feet
Use a strap around feet to hold
Sit on folded blanket for ease
Slightly bend the knees for very tight hamstrings

Benefits

Stress relief – calms the mind
Reduces anxiety and anger
Soothes headache
Stretches and improves flexibility of the spine, shoulders and hamstrings
Stimulation of the all the abdominal viscera – improves digestion and can reduce fat in the abdomen
More oxygenated blood to pelvic regions – can improve impotency and relieve menstrual discomfort

Contraindications and cautions

Pregnancy – puts too much stress on the womb
Back/disc injury

Alex