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Hollye Holbrook

Posture of the Month: Paschimottanasana (July 2016)


Paschimottanasana is a basic yet challenging seated forward fold with several benefits. The name comes from the Sanskrit words paschima meaning "west" or "back of body", and uttana meaning "intense stretch" or "straight" or "extended", and asana meaning "posture" or "seat".

This pose has several variations depending on which lineage it comes from:

Core 26 (Seated Head-to-Knee Pose) – see photo below: Hook your peace fingers around your big toes. Walk your hips back and walk your elbows and spine toward the front mirror.

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Vinyasa (Seated Forward Fold) – see photo below: Try to avoid a lot of curvature in middle part of the spine. Try to keep the back straight, although not rigid, and bend from the hip area.

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Yin (Caterpillar Pose) – see photo below: In a yin practice of this pose, we are not trying to lengthen the spine or stretch the back muscles. Don't try to bring the head to the feet but, rather, round the spine so the head comes to the knees.

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Pose type:
seated forward fold

Benefits:
• Stretches the hamstrings, spine, and lower back
• Calms the mind, and relieves stress and anxiety
• Improves digestion
• Relieves symptoms of PMS and menopause
• Reduces fatigue
• Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus

Preparatory poses: child’s pose; head-to-knee pose; standing forward fold

Follow-up poses: seated spinal twist (half lord of the fishes pose)

Cautions: Never force yourself into a forward bend, especially when sitting on the floor. Coming forward, as soon as you feel the space between your pubis and navel shortening, stop, lift up slightly, and lengthen again. Often, because of tightness in the backs of the legs, a beginner's forward bend doesn't go very far forward and might look more like sitting up straight.

Modifications: Bend the knees; hold a strap around the feet; sit on a folded blanket.

Deepen the pose: Once you are fully in the forward bend you can clasp your hands around the soles of the feet, or turn the back of one hand to the soles and grip its wrist with the other hand. You can also place a block against the soles of your feet and grip its sides with your hands.

VARIATION: Lie on your back, exhale, and bend your knees into your torso. Then inhale and extend the heels toward the ceiling. Slowly, on an exhalation, swing your feet toward the floor above your head. You may or may not be able to reach all the way to the floor. Try not to let the back of the pelvis lift very far from the floor. Keep your head straight with a little space behind your neck to protect the cervical spine. This is an upside-down version of Paschimottanasana.

As with all postures, I encourage you to listen to your body and honor where you are
mentally, physically and emotionally each day. The pose will be there again tomorrow...
practice in such a way that you can be too!

Warmly,
Hollye and the SGY Teaching Team