The term, paschimottanasana, is derived from the Sanskrit root words paschima, which means “back” or “west;” uttana, which means “intense stretch” or “straight,” referring in this case to the back of the body; and asana, which means “posture."
The asana naturally promotes introspection and inner work. 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. This can teach students to balance effort and surrender in postures as well as detachment from the end result of their work.
It is mentioned in the "Shiva Samhita" as one of the accomplished asanas, along with padmasana, siddhasana and vajrasana. Gorakshanath, an 11th century yogi, advocated this asana.
Paschimottanasana is also said to balance prana in the body. It is particularly stimulating for the manipura chakra, which improves vitality.