Paschimottanasana: Intense Stretch of the West
Pose of the Month: Paschimottanasana- Intense Stretch of the West
Writing & Model: Chrisandra Fox
Photography: Faern, faernworks.com
It’s Spring, a natural time for melting, shedding and sprouting. As the earth warms and opens and daylight stretches into the evening, we see a natural increase in growth and renewal – the sprouting buds of plants, the singing of baby birds, spring housecleaning and renewed interest in physical activities outdoors.
Even digestion speeds up as we lighten our diets and savor in the abundance of a new season’s fresh fruits and vegetables.
A daily dose of Paschimottansana can help your body shed its winter layer, wake up your life energy, calm your nervous system and cool excessive activity in your brain. Considered “the best among asanas” in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Paschimottansana helps to increase digestive fire, tone and strengthen the liver, kidneys and reproductive organs and help you stay cool and centered during the increase of seasonal warmth to come.
Regular practice of this seated forward bend “stretches” the back or “West” side of the body and its fascia layer covering the muscles of the spine, legs, arms and shoulders. This stretching improves impulse function through the spinal column to the brain and helps to calm the nervous system.
Paschimottansana also directs the flow of prana from the lower chakra centers of the torso to the higher centers in the heart and brain. This redirection of energy can help to burn through stagnation and excessive attachment in our material lives and “lift” our spirits toward a sense of higher vision. We can transform the inertia that may have collected during the darker months of winter (or longer) into a lightness of being and renewal in body and mind.
You may want to warm up with a few standing forward bends and asymmetrical seated poses before practicing Paschimottanasana.
Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose), with your hands resting at the sides of your hips. If your pelvis tilts back, sit on the edge of a folded blanket.
With legs extended, press the heel of one foot forward, then the other foot a few times to help gently spread your buttocks flesh back. Press strongly through both heels. Your quadriceps should be lightly engaged, careful not to lock your knee.
Inhale, reach your arms up overhead. Exhale, bend forward at your hips, take your hands to your feet or shins.
Inhale smoothly and extend your front spine, keep your chin drawn in lightly toward the center of your throat. Exhale, lengthen your low belly, then mid-torso and chest over your legs. Keep your neck in the line of your spine. Widen the backs of your legs and spread broadly across the bases of your toes.
With each inhalation, feel the lengthening of your spine toward the crown of your head. As you exhale, allow your organs to fold deeply in toward your back body, massage them with your breath.
For many students, tightness in the hips, hamstrings and back will present an immediate sense of limitation in the pose. If this is true for you, loop a strap around your feet. As you inhale, extend your front spine and as you exhale, fold at your hips without rounding your back. Keep the extension of your front body, use your exhalation to find tone in your abdomen. Lower your eye gaze toward the tip of your nose and soften the skin on your forehead.
Another option is to bend your knees and deepen the angle between your thighs and your torso. As the backs of your legs begin to open, try straightening them a little.
For everyone, avoid pushing, straining or pulling into the shape of the forward bend. Support the openness of the front, back and sides of your torso with smooth rhythmic breathing. As your torso comes closer to your legs, round your back gently, allowing your forehead to rest on or toward your shins.
You can bend your elbows to open across your chest. Release the tops of your shoulders away from your ears.
Feel your senses turn toward the inner landscape of your body, breath and mind. As you fold more deeply inside, feel a light lift of your pelvic floor energy towards your heart. Find the lifting of your abdomen up towards your ribcage after your exhale, purifying any heaviness there and cultivating ease in your heart.
To come up, inhale and slowly lift your spine to neutral. Sit in Dandasana, or come into a comfortable seated pose and rest your mind in the quiet open space of renewal.
Chrisandra Fox teaches Tantric-inspired hatha yoga six classes weekly at Yoga Tree.
She leads The Heart of Renewal Retreats in California and beyond. Email Chrisandra@gmail.com