• Sarah McFadden

Understanding Vinyasa Flow Yoga... Part 7: Paschimottanasana

Updated: Jan 5


Pachimottanasana guidance

Whether you’re a beginner looking for yoga tips, or a more experienced practitioner: these articles are aimed at helping you refine your practice - so you can find a sustainable practice that suits your body.


We now move on from the standing poses to the most common seated posture: Paschimottanasana.


This pose is a forward bend. Forward bends offer a great opportunity to lengthen the whole back of the body.


It’s really interesting posture to practice as it’s useful way to feel the connection between all the different parts of the back body.


For example, have you ever noticed when you draw your chin further in towards your chest - how that adjustment creates ripples of sensation further down the back - demonstrating the interconnectedness of many of the tissues in the body!


In Paschimottanasana we can explore the feeling of lengthening the spine, the hamstrings and the calf muscles, as well as the feeling of connection between these areas. This pose often also induces a feeling of calm and can therefore help prepare us for meditation.


Forward bends are pretty prolific in a typical vinyasa flow class, as we often do them at several stages of the class. They are often sequenced after backbends to provide a nice counter pose to that experience, and they also crop up in sun salutations - when we move up and down from tadasana (mountain pose).

So, since we spend a lot of time in these shapes, it’s a good idea to understand what is happening in the body and what some of the variations are, so you have tools at your disposal to ensure your practice has diversity and you can make adaptions to what your individual body needs.


Remember there are many variations of each posture. Variations help us find options that suit us each time we come to the mat, and even at different stages through the duration of a class as well. What may have felt good for you at the beginning of class, may not still be the case towards the end.

Check out my video for a full and comprehensive guide to your paschimottanasana experience:


Moving from the hips


Our potential to move forward in these postures depends a lot on the mobility around our pelvis. Specifically, how easily the pelvis can tilt forward over the thigh bones. Due to modern postural habits and skeletal structure, this is easier said than done for much of the population.


A good test for this is if you sit with your legs outstretched in front of you and try to sit up with a relatively straight back. If you can comfortably make a 90 degree angle shape with your torso and legs, you have more generous mobility in this regard. If you can’t, you’ll face a little more challenge with your forward bends.

But like any posture, there are many ways to make it work for us.


If when you try to sit upright like this, you feel like you are leaning back a bit, and have to use a lot of effort just in attempting to sit up straight then you’ll want to sit on a block or a firm cushion of some type and probably work with bent knees too. You can also take a variation bending the knees while not sitting on a block as well.


These variations when practiced over time help us to increase the range of movement potential in the pelvic tilt, whilst still providing a nice experience of extension and length in the back of the body.


It’s a really worthwhile adjustment to make, as it helps prepare the body for many other asana where hip tilting mobility is helpful, and it helps counteract the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle in relation to your posture overall as well.



Finding your seat


Determine if sitting up on something will be helpful for your practice and then either sit near the front edge of a block, cushion or folded blanket. Alternatively if you’re sitting straight on the mat you might enjoy an adjustment of moving the flesh of the buttocks to the side/back so you can feel more grounding of the sit bones.


Establish a long spine


Maintaining the length of the spine should be your priority. The tendency is often to collapse around the lower torso and round the back in an attempt to move further forward and down.


But when we give in to this temptation we lose the important opportunity to strengthen and lengthen the back muscles. Our postural muscles then miss out on the opportunity to adapt and build more resilience that will better support us when we move through everyday life.


While some rounding of the lower back in a forward fold is generally ok (as the spine is made to move in many directions), we don’t really want to be putting our body in this shape every time we do a forward bend. It’s this repetition of it that may be problematic, and especially so if we’re using force to try and pull ourselves deeper into the shape.

So just go as far forward as you can to maintain a long spine without too much rounding in the lower back.



A quality of muscular support should infuse your forward bend


You’ll benefit from keeping the feet and legs active, the muscular effort creates a safer version of the stretch. And also keeping the muscles of the lower torso somewhat active as well, provides stability and an opportunity to strengthen this part of the body more.


So, draw your toes back towards you, and feel the leg muscles engage with that action. Stay like that as best you can through the time you’re staying in the posture.


Have some tone in the belly and lower back, by feeling that you are lifting the spine up and stopping yourself from collapsing around the lower torso. Maintain this by using each inhale to initiate a little more lift up, and perhaps slightly forward as well.


Breath


It is nice to use the inhale to keep the feeling of length and lift of the torso (as mentioned above), and to then use the exhale to try and soften into the experience a little.


It’s a lovely balanced way to experience the posture and it can help to maintain your focus in each moment as well.


Want to know more…


Check out my video for a full and comprehensive guide to your paschimottanasana experience: