The very first yoga class I ever attended was a Bikram class in Eugene. As soon as class started, I felt like I had entered some sort of alien world. Like many people, I had thought that yoga was just a bunch of stretching, but the positions we were doing were so strange. I felt so awkward and uncoordinated! The one pose I did find familiar was the seated forward bend, one of the very last poses in class. That deep, hot stretch I felt in the back of my hamstrings was exactly what I had thought yoga would be like. These days, I feel much less awkward in class, but can still easily find an intense stretch in the back of my legs in the seated forward bend.
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana
Seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana (pronounced pah-shee-mow-tan-asana), is a great pose to create length in the backside of your entire body, from your head to your heels. It feels really great if you feel stiff or tight in your back or in your legs. Forward bends in general are typically thought of as calming for your central nervous system; they tend to ease feelings of stress or anxiety. Paschimottanasana is a quiet pose that takes time; this pose is typically held for at least 30 seconds or longer. The deep sensations that can arise are the perfect medium for a little bit of self-examination. Next time you get a chance to hang-out in a seated forward bend, take notice of the thoughts and feelings that might come up.
Start seated with your feet out straight in front of you. Flex your feet up and engage your thighs. Reach up overhead with your arms, then hinge forward at your waist, extending your torso as far out over your legs as you can with a flat back. Think if reaching your nose to your toes. You may rest your hands on your thighs, shins, ankles, or grab your feet with your hands.
If you have particularly tight hips or back, sitting on the edge of a blanket, pillow or towel can help you find ease. Looping a strap or belt around your feet is also a great way to find length in your spine and back. Pull on the strap equally with both hands, using it as leverage to pull your chest toward your toes. You can easily make this pose restorative by grabbing a couple pillows or a bolster. Lay the bolster or pillows in your lap and rest forward on top of them. Rounding your back deeply in this pose feels great on your spine. Play around and find what feels best for you!