Applying principles: paschimottanasana

Applying principles: Paschimottanasana

Paschimottanasana is a foundational posture in the realm of physical yoga. It is often refered to as the hamstrings, knees and calfs opener and recommended for runners. There is actually more to it than simply stretching the legs.

The name of the pose says it all. Paschima means west. Traditionally, yoga practice would take place early morning, facing the sun. Thus, the front side refers to the east and the backside to the west. Therefore paschimottanasana is stretching the entire backside of the body from the top of the head to the toes. In asana practice we tend to focus on one area of the body, this stretch is good for that part. The reality of it, is that all the body parts are dependent one another. When we are stretching the legs, the flexibility in the lower back, hips and through the spine will play an important role on how far we can go.We are so focused on the area that burns, shake and hurts, we forget about the rest of the body and stay caught up in our physical, emotional and mental knots. Yet, if we spread our attention to the entire body with an equanimous mind (simply observing the bodily sensations), the experience of the asana is different. We can sense what part of the body is letting us down, the relation between the parts, (what happens to the hamstrings when I lift the sternum, initiate the movement from the hips, suck the lower belly and so on) and understand the posture to a deeper level. The unity of the body is valid in every asana situation. One of the most important aspect of yoga is the ability to experience the posture to truly understand it and progress. Yoga in itself cannot be described in words, but felt in the experience of the asana.

To perform paschimottanasana, start in a sitting position, legs straight.

  • Take the time to feel the sitting bones on the ground,
  • Keep the spine straight. If you are having trouble keeping the back straight, place a blanket under your bum, bend the knees or place the hands behind you.
  • The ankles, knees and hips are aligned,
  • Bring awareness to the space inside the pelvis, bringing the sitting bone together, squeeze the pelvic floor and suck the lower belly in to protect the spine, and open the back of the hips. As you create more space in the hips and inside the pelvis, the spine flex deeper into forward bending and release the hamstrings.
  • Take a few breath and connect deep inside, keepin the shoulders and neck and face relaxed.
  • On an exhalation place the hands forward, squeeze the inner thighs push and lean forward.
  • Keep the chin into the chest
  • Rest in the posture and breath.
  • Do not collapse the shoulders to the ears, and push the strenum towards the legs.

Once we can enjoy the experience of the entire body and rest comfortably in the posture, regardless of how far we can go, a sense of calm arises naturally and yoga is taking place. Next time you get on the mat, remember to experience the posture, feel every little bit of yourself stretching and moving in the moment, without trying to get anywhere. This heightened awareness of yourself will trigger that feeling of peace.


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