- Sanskrit (Original): Paścimottānāsana
- Etymology: Behind, westward (pascha); intense stretch (uttana); pose (āsana)
- Fun Fact about the pose: In yoga tradition, the back of the body is referred to as west because yoga was originally practiced facing the rising sun.
- Asana Type: Forward Fold, Seated
- Main length muscle groups: Erector spinae, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, gluteus muscles, piriformis, hamstrings, gastrocnemius
- Vinyasa Breath: Exhale
How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step
- 1 For the Seated Forward Fold Paschimottanasana, start in a seated position with the legs extended in front of you, e.g. Staff Pose (Dandasana).
- 2 Remove the fleshy parts from underneath your buttocks so that your sit bones are directly in the mat and your thighs are in neutral rotation (which feels like a slight inward rotation).
- 3 Wiggle forward a little bit so that you actually sit on the front edge of your sit bones. This way it is easier to tilt the pelvis forward into a neutral position.
- 4 Inhale and lift the chest and chin slightly up. Remember that every forward fold also is a hidden backbend.
- 5 Exhale and start hinging forward from the hips. Ideally, you do this with the arms lifted overhead and only hinge at approximately 45 degrees.
- 6 Lower your hands and place them onto your legs at the position they arrive (probably just underneath your knees).
- 7 Inhale and lift the sternum (chest bone) up again to maintain the slight backbend. You can also wiggle your sit bones slightly back again.
- 8 Exhale and fold forward all the way over your thighs. Reach your hands further forward. Eventually, you can take told of your feet.
- 9 Connect your lower ribs to your thighs and flatten your back even if that means that you have to bend your knees.
Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose
- Lengthen the backline of the body: Tilt your pelvis anteriorly (i.e. tilt it forward) to create a little ‘ducktail’ shape in your lumbar spine. This can be done by moving the sit bones further back so that you only sit on the front edge of the sit bones. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to remove the fleshy part from underneath your sit bones and actively rotate the thighs in. This will not only help you to extend and lengthen the hamstrings but also aid the lumbar spine with extending before letting it go into flexion.
- Keep the legs in neutral rotation: In Paschimottanasana the legs are neither internally rotated nor externally rotated. However, due to tightness in the buttocks or hips, the legs tend to drop into external rotation. This is why you want to make and conscious effort to inwardly rotate the thighs to actually bring them into a neutral position.
- Tilt the pelvis forward: In this Seated Forward Fold, gravity will pull you deeper into flexion. However, if the backs of the legs and pelvis are tight, your hips will be pulled into the exact opposite direction. To overcome this, the hip flexors and abdominal muscles start to contract to pull the body forward. This can create compression in the hip joints. This is why you want to make the anterior (forward) tilt of the pelvis a priority. If this is not available to you when sitting on the ground, elevate your buttocks above the knees by sitting on a folded blanket or a block. Bending the knees slightly will also provide more range of motion for the spine to move forward. You will still get a nice hamstring stretch, but a much healthier one.
Adapting The Pose Through Modifications
- Sit on a rolled-up blanket or a yoga block to bring the hips higher than the knees. This way, it is much easier to bring the hips into an anterior tilt and hinge forward from the hips.
- Bend the knees slightly to avoid overstretching the hamstrings. This will give you more space to fold forward as the hamstrings won’t pull the pelvis into a posterior (backward) tilt. This also allows you to stretch the belly of the hamstrings rather than straining their attachments at the knee joint.
- For a Half Seated Forward Fold, bend one knee and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the opposite thigh. Let the knee gently fall to the side. From here, proceed in the same way as you would for the full pose. This way, you can focus on the hamstrings of both legs separately and work on creating more length.
- If you’re able to fold all the way forward over your legs, you may even want to wrap your hands around your feet and interlace the fingers. You can even place a block in front of your feet and take hold of the block to create more distance.
- Wrap one arm around your back and place it on the opposite waistline or even take hold of the opposite thigh at the hip crease.
- Opt for a twist and bring both hands to one big toe. Rotate your upper body to let your chest face to the side you’re twisting to.
Benefits of Paschimottanasana
- Like all forward folds, Paschimottanasana has a very deep calming and cooling effect, not only for the body, but also for the mind. This makes it a great pose when struggling with mental turmoil or when feeling overheated.
- Furthermore, it soothes the brain cells and calms down the heart rate, as the whole trunk is basically upside down.
- This Seated Forward Fold is also said to refresh the body and the mind and relieve anxiety, headaches, insomnia and fatigue.
- By massaging the abdominal organs, Paschimottanasana can help to improve digestion.
It keeps the spine and the nerves of the spine long and flexible.
- Paschimottanasana provides a deep stretch for the hips and the legs, especially the hamstrings and the calves. This is great for people with a shortened backline of the body.
Pose VariationsSee all Poses
Pose variations can be anything that makes the original pose easier or more simple but also anything making it more challenging or adding complexity.
Reclined Intense Back Stretch Pose
Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana
Upward Facing Intense Stretch Pose
Preparatory PoseSee all Poses
Preparatory poses are poses that have a similar shape to the pose you want to prepare for but maybe in a different alignment towards gravity and/or poses that target specific body areas to warm up, stretch or strengthen in order to lead to the final pose. Include preparatory poses when you build yoga sequences.
Counter PoseSee all Poses
Counter poses serve to balance the body back into neutral after a pose or a set of same poses. E.g. symmetrical poses balancing asymmetrical poses, forward folds or twists balancing backbends, balancing challenging poses with restorative poses. Use counter poses to build sequences that feel amazing – you can use our free Sequence Builder tool to get started.
Legs up the Wall Pose
Sethu Bandha Sarvangasana
Reverse Tabletop Pose
Upward Plank Pose
Paschimottanasana is one of the poses where doing less is actually more. Once you allow yourself to surrender into the pose – no matter where your hands are or how straight your legs are – you will be able to reap the benefits of the pose and explore it more deeply.
Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher
FAQ: Common questions about this pose
The answer to this question depends on the energetics of the class that you are practicing and the outcome you want to achieve. In more dynamic classes this seated forward forward fold may only be held for a few breaths. In a therapeutic yoga class, however, you may want to spend more time working on the details. In this case, you can hold the pose for five to ten full breath cycles (one inhale and one exhale equals one full cycle of breath). If you modify the pose to be more restorative (e.g. by using props) you can extend the pose to anything from one to ten minutes.
There is no general answer to this question, as it all depends on the range of motion of your own body. If you have no trouble keeping your spine long when folding over your hips, it can be a great way of working on your hamstring lengths by actively engaging your leg muscles to straighten your knees. However, if your spine becomes round, or if your hip joint feels tight, the recommendation would be to start practising with your knees bent as much as needed, until you feel that your range of motion has increased.
The culprit here are – guess what? – your hamstrings. If they are quite short and tight, they pull the pelvis back so that your back is rounded and you cannot reach forward. Remember that you need to create a slight backbend if you want to do a forward fold. This means that you need to tilt your pelvis forward. The remedy here is to elevate the hips a bit above the knees by sitting on a rolled-up towel or blanket or even on a block. Also, remove the fleshy parts from underneath your sit bones (don’t be afraid of using your hands for this!) and slightly inwardly roate the thighs (to actually bring them into neutral alignment). In addition, you can keep the knees bent as this will release the hamstrings and give you more range of motion in your pelvis. This way it will be easier for you to tilt your pelvis anteriorly and fold forward from the hips without overstretching the hamstrings. However, remember that reaching the feet with your hands is not always a matter of flexibility. It also depends on the length of your arms and legs. If your legs are rather long in comparison to your arms, it will be more difficult for you to reach your feet. In any case, the most important thing in yoga is how a pose feels, not how it looks. So, if you feel a nice and juicy hamstring stretch even without touching your feet, you’re doing a great job.