Definition - What does Paschimottanasana mean?
Paschimottanasana is the Sanskrit name for a fundamental yoga asana. It is a seated posture, in which the upper body is folded forward over the legs in order to stretch the hamstrings and the muscles of the back. The term is derived from three Sanskrit roots; paschima, meaning "back" uttana meaning "stretch" and asana meaning "seat" or "posture".
To come into paschimottanasana, begin in dandasana (staff pose) with legs extended and feet flexed. On an inhale, lift the arms and lengthen the spine. On an exhale, hinge from the hips to fold forward, drawing the belly in gently. Rather than aiming the nose towards the knees, aim the belly towards the thighs in order to maintain a long spine. The hands can rest either on the floor or the shins, or if accessible, gently grasp the base of the heels. The neck should be in a neutral position, providing a natural extension of the spine.
Paschimottanasana is also known as seated forward bend in English.
Yogapedia explains Paschimottanasana
Paschimottanasana was first recorded in the second chapter of the Gheranda Samhita, one of the three classic texts of Hatha yoga. It is one of thirty-two asana selected as the best postures for humans, out of 8,400,000 mentioned by Shiva.
Additionally, it is cited as one of the accomplished asana in the Shiva Samhita, along with padmasana (Lotus Pose), siddhasana (Accomplished Pose) and vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose).
Paschimottanasana is commonly used in Hatha, Vinyasa and Restorative style classes, and it is also part of the Ashtanga primary series.
In order to experience the maximum benefit of the pose, paschimottanasana should be held for at least one to three minutes. For a more restorative version, a bolster may be placed on the thighs in order to support the torso, allowing the practitioner to hold the pose for a much longer period of time.
Those with tight hamstrings may need to keep a bend in the knees, and those who are unable to reach their feet may use a yoga strap looped around the balls of the feet in order to help deepen the stretch. If the back feels rounded in this pose, a rolled-up blanket beneath the hips can help to shift the pelvis into a more stable position.
Paschimottanasana is considered to be a calming posture for the mind and nervous system, and may therefore be therapeutic for anxiety and depression. It is naturally introspective, and can be paired with slow breathwork for a more meditative experience.
Due to the challenging nature of the stretch, it may be necessary to let go of the desire to fold fully over the legs and, instead, surrender to the posture as it is. As such, paschimottanasana can help students to balance effort and surrender, in addition to practicing detachment from the end result.
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