Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana

woman doing a seated forward bend
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana. Ann Pizer
  • Type of pose: Seated
  • Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and back.

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.


  1. Begin by coming to sit in staff pose - dandasana.
  2. Bring your arms straight out to the sides and up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling.
  3. Inhale and draw your spine up long.
  4. As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at your hips. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl of water that is tipping forward.
  5. On each inhale, lengthen your spine you may come a bit out of your forward bend to do this. On each exhale, deepen into your forward bend.
  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 (see detailed discussion above).
  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.

Beginners' Tips

  • 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.
  • 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.

Advanced Tips

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