Paschimottanasana (PASH-ee-moh-tah-NAH-suh-nuh) can be intimidating for some because it is quite intense. I struggled with the pose initially and it took me a very long time to learn to really activate my hip flexors for a deeper forward fold. Paschimottanasana may look like only a hamstring stretch. But it’s much more than just the hamstrings. When done properly, it stretches the entire back body. This pose improves the flexibility of the lumbar spine, hips and hamstrings.
The muscular joints in action in Paschimottanasana are:
Eccentric Contraction – Spinal Extensors
Passive Lengthening – Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, Trapezius, Hamstrings, Gluteus Medius and Minimus, Gluteus Maximus, Piriformis, Adductor magnus, Soleus, Gastrocnemius
Concentric Contraction – Adductor longus and brevis (to adduct and slight internally rotate)
In Sanskrit, paschima means the west
If you are practicing yoga with a herniated disc or any back injuries, be mindful of how your body feels in the pose. Come out of the pose whenever you feel discomfort or pain. Do not fold forward fully, instead, with a rolled up blanket, place it on your thighs to act as a guide that limits how deep of a fold you are in. It also gives extra support.
For stiff knees, with a rolled up blanket, place it under your knees for support. Eventually, with practice, this should ease the stiffness of the knees.
Getting into the Pose
- Sit in Dandasana. If the lower back starts to round in Dandasana, sit on folded blankets or a bolster.
- Stretch arms overhead, lengthen the side body. Keep a micro bend in the knees to avoid over-stretching into the ligaments or tendons.
- Flex at your hips and fold over your legs. Grab your big toes with your index and middle fingers on the inside of the toe, and thumbs around the outside of your toe. You can also hold the outer edges of your feet if you prefer. Dorsiflex both feet.
- To deepen the forward fold, keep the spine long by looking forwards and think of bringing the belly to rest on the thighs.
- Keep a steady breath. With every exhale, fold deeper.
Sitting on folded blankets or a bolster helps promote a healthy pelvic tilt. A strap can help bring your hands closer s to your feet and maintain spinal integrity
Gradually remove the blanket or bolster when you are able to keep the pelvic tilt. Inhale for length, exhale to pull the strap closer to you to bring the belly closer to the thigh
When the hamstrings are ready for a deeper fold, grab both feet.
Variation for a more deeper fold: Place a block or 2 at the base of both feet. Grab the outside of the block and fold.
Avoid rounding your back as this may cause lower back pain and compression on the spine. Modification and be to bend the knees a lot to bring the belly to touch the thighs.
- Relieves pain and tightness in the hamstrings
- Enhances blood flow into the pelvic region
- Elevates anxiety
As with any other yoga pose, practice makes progress. Be patient with your body 🙂