How to Do Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman doing a seated forward bend
Ann Pizer

Also Known As: Intense Dorsal Stretch

Targets: Hamstrings, calves, back

Level: Beginner

Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) is a classic pose from Hatha yoga. It gives the whole back of your body a good stretch, from your calves to your hamstrings (back of the thighs) and your spine.

Benefits

This pose stretches the hamstrings, calves, and back. It helps open up your hips. This stretch is excellent for runners who have tight hamstrings. It is also considered to be a calming pose. It is said that this pose can help relieve stress and even improve your mood.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by coming to sit in Staff Pose (dandasana), with your legs straight in front of your body.)

  1. Bring your arms straight out to the sides and up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling.
  2. Inhale and draw your spine up long.
  3. As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at your hips. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl of water that is tipping forward.
  4. On each inhale, lengthen your spine you may come a bit out of your forward bend to do this.
  5. On each exhale, deepen into your forward bend. Imagine your belly coming to rest on your thighs, rather than your nose coming to your knees. This will help you keep your spine long.
  6. Keep the neck as the natural extension of your spine, neither cranking it to look up nor letting it go completely.
  7. When you have come to your full extension with the spine long, decide whether you want to stay here or let your spine round forward.
  8. Take hold of your ankles or shins, whichever you can reach. You can also use a strap around your feet. Keep your feet flexed strongly throughout.

Common Mistakes

Keep your knees aligned and do not allow them to turn out. If they turn out it lessens the stretch of the main body of your hamstrings and instead puts the stress closer to your joints.

Keep your back straight for as deep as you can in the pose. This will help you get full breaths.

Modifications and Variations

To round or not to round, that is the question. Not just in Paschimottanasana but in seated forward bends in general. There are two schools of thought on this subject. Everyone agrees that you should do the first part of your forward bending with your back as straight as possible so that your fold comes from deepening your hip creases, not collapsing your back.

This method takes you from sitting upright to the point where you can't go any further without letting your spine round forward. Some teachers believe that this is exactly where you should stop your trajectory. You keep your spine long, your breath going and just abide. The other approach is to let your spine round at this point. This usually gets you to a superficially deeper forward bend or at least a place where you can relax a bit. That's really the crux of the difference. The first method leaves you hanging in a kind of uncomfortable place. The second one gives you permission to let it all go.

You don't have to pledge your allegiance to one camp or the other. Try both on for size and see which one makes more sense to you. You can do it one way sometimes and change it up at others.

Eventually (or if you are very open in the hamstrings now), you may get to a place where to point become moot because your torso is lying fully on your legs with your spine straight anyway.

Do You Need a Modification?

Put padding (a blanket or bolster) under your seat if it's hard for you to sit up straight when your butt is flat on the floor.

If you have difficulty reaching all the way to your toes, position a yoga strap around your feet and grasp it with both hands. You may also bend your knees enough so you can reach your feet with your hands.

Up for a Challenge?

If you can easily grab the soles of your feet, try taking a block behind your feet and holding that instead.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this pose if you have an injury to your arms, hips, ankles, or shoulders. Don't force yourself in this pose. If you are too tight to get much bend, just do what you can without pain.

Because this pose compresses the abdomen, it may not be comfortable on a full stomach.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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