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Paschimottanasana A full flexing of the spine edit button Edit

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A.D Pradeep Kumar | calendar 03 March 2024 | 42

The Financial Express March 26 , 2000

“PASCHIMOTTANASANA is the best among the asanas. When you perform this asana, the pranic currents rise through Sushumna, the digestive fire increases the abdomen becomes flat and the practitioner becomes free from diseases”.

- Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Of all the forward bending asanas, Paschimottanasana provides the maximum stretch to the spine. It is an asana that is spoken of highly in Hatha Yogic texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita and Siva Samhita.

Paschim denotes the posterior and Tan means to stretch. Because this posture especially stretches the posterior part of the body, it is termed Paschimottanasana or the posterior-stretching pose.

Paschimottanasana stretches the whole spinal column and the central nervous system through which the Sushumna runs, thus enabling nervous and pranic impulses to pass directly to the higher centres.

The Siva Samhita refers to the posture as the Ugrasana or the mighty pose because of its capacity to produce violent physical and mental reactions when practised over a very long period.

However, before you start stretching your spine to its fullest, it is advisable to first practise the dynamic variations of the Paschimottanasana.

  • Sit on the mat and stretch your legs out to their full length, keeping them firmly pressed against the floor, with the toes turned inward.
  • Inhale for three seconds, point toes forward hands to chest, sideways, lean back a little.
  • Bend forward, touch your toes, inhale for three seconds.
  • Return
  • Repeat 4-6 times

This exercise has been found to be of special value in relieving constipation-it stimulates and exercises the abdominal viscera. It also has the hygienic advantage of deep intra-abdominal compression. It also helps to stretch the muscles of the ankles, the legs, the shoulders and the back, and is therefore a very good corrective exercise for deformities of spine curvature. It is particularly useful to those whose spine is usually stiff, and want it to regain its normal elasticity.

For the maximum stretching of the spine, however, you have to try the advanced and original Paschimottanasana.

  • While sitting on the floor as in the previous exercise, begin to exhale as soon as you bend your body forward until you reach your toes; hold your toes tightly with your fingers.
  • Keep on bending your head further till you can finally touch your knees maintain the position keeping your breath suspended; Inhale and return to the starting position.

The movements, breathing and time should be coordinated as follows (1) starting inhalation, three seconds (2) forward bend-exhalation., three seconds; and (3) static pose during suspension of breath up to six seconds, but when the pose is maintained for a longer period, not exceeding two minutes, instead follow slow and rhythmic natural breathing.

The initial attempt at this posture is unlikely to be successful because the average person's posterior muscles are usually quite still, so don't feel discouraged. Work at it every day and you will succeed very soon.

However, take care to avoid any jerks and hasty or strenuous pulls, which may cause muscle soreness or even impair their full elasticity.

The immediate effect that you will notice when you perform the Paschimottanasana regularly is an increase in your blood circulation, especially to the head and the pelvic regions. You will feel fresh and invigorated.

When you perform the Paschimottanasana, your spine is stretched 6-6.5 inches. This stretch acts favourably on all the posterior muscles of the body. More space is created between the vertebrae of the spinal column, and this releases the pressure of the nerves passing through the vertebral gaps. The flexing of the spine takes place throughout its length, which is why the Paschimottanasana helps to loosen the usually stiff hamstring muscles, the glutei, the psoas major and the minor muscles. It also helps to reduce excess fat in the body.

The compression of the abdominal viscera has a positive effect on the internal abdominal organs. More gastric juices mix with the good. Gas and constipation problems are relieved. This asana also helps people with lack of appetite to regain their appetite. Thus, in general, the Paschimottanasana helps to keep the body nerves and joints flexible.

While practising the Paschimottanasana, when you close your eyes and keep your head on your knees, you will experience a process of internalisation wherein all your thoughts and feelings turn inwards, and you feel yourself coming close to the earth around you. This feeling leads to a feeling of peace and deep relaxation.

The bending forward pose induces in you a feeling of humility. So, it is also classified under the Vairagya Bhava.

Limitations

People suffering from ulcers, spinal and abdominal injuries, cervical spondylosis, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart problems, high myopia and diabetes should avoid this asana.

(Note: This article is based on the principles advocated by The Yoga Institute, Santacruz)