Paschima means Western and refers to the posterior part of the body. This is because yoga asanas were traditionally practiced facing East where the sun rises. Uttana means intense stretching. Symbolically, uttanasana gets straight to the heart of the primary goal of hatha yoga – re-uniting two seemingly opposing halves. It is a natural tendency to cling to our judgments… good and bad, beautiful and ugly, positive and negative. Yet yoga teaches us that it is this clinging to desire and aversion which causes most human suffering. Think of the symbolism of the upper and lower body folding together and the higher and lower self uniting. This is the symbolic meaning of the pose.
Benefits of Paschimottanasana
- Teaches proper muscle recruitment patterns in the pelvis and lower back during forward bending activities.
- Teaches us to lengthen through the waist and strengthens many important postural muscles.
- Teaches us to create space between our hips and our ribcage while stabilizing the shoulder-blades.
- If you tend to round your back excessively in this posture (or you suffer from lower back pain and tight hamstrings) it is important to use modifications.
- This asana should be modified or avoided during the later stages of pregnancy. For most pregnant women, a wide legged forward fold will put less strain on the lower back.
- People suffering from acute muscle guarding, osteoporosis, muscle spasm, and disc herniation should avoid seated forward bend.
- Start in a seated position with your sit bones firmly planted. The feet and legs are together in Dandasana with the adductor muscles engaged.
- Inhale and lengthen the spine.
- Engage your Bandhas and feel the natural curve in the lower back.
- Bend your knees so your belly and chest are resting on your thighs.
- Tilt the rim of the pelvis forward, hinging at the hip crease (as opposed to the waist).
- Place your hands on the outsides of the shins or grab onto your big toes with your two peace fingers (whatever allows you to avoid putting pressure on your lower back).
- Slide your heels forward until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings, making sure there is no pressure on the discs in your spine.
- Feel the gentle opening of your vertebrae on the back side of your body. Breathe into these spaces. Experience a feeling of freedom and spaciousness there.
- Relax your shoulders, neck and facial muscles.
- Feel your lungs breathing deeply and your heart beating in your chest.
- Press your hands into the mat.Gently walk the hands back towards the body to bring the torso up.