For many people, touching their toes is the ultimate flexibility goal when they turn to yoga. However, Paschimottanasana is much more than that. It’s a grounding, calming pose that uses the forward bend to achieve the desired effect. In the meantime, it works towards strengthening the entire back surface of the body, including your neck, shoulder blades, spine, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
“My favorite thing about Seated Forward Bend is the mental component,” says Yoga Answered contributor Cat Harvey. “I always feel calmer and more connected to my inner self when I practice this pose.”
Seated Forward Bend Pose Quick Look
Sanskrit Name: Paschimottanasana
Pose Type: Forward Bend Yoga Poses, Seated Yoga Poses
Difficulty Level: Beginner pose
Targets: Hamstrings, calves, back, and glutes
Benefits: Seated Forward Bend is an excellent way to elongate muscles along the entire back of the body. Many people love it for the satisfying hamstring stretch, but it also affects the sciatic nerve, lengthens calves and glutes, decompresses the spine, and opens the space between shoulder blades. The folding action strengthens the hip flexors and conditions the body to soften and release tension. The combination of downwards trajectory and the “closing” action allows the focus to be directed within, exploring the mind.
Preparatory Poses: Standing Forward Bend, Staff Pose, Cat/Cow
How to Do Seated Forward Bend Pose Step-By-Step
- Start seated in Staff Pose. Shuffle your seat bones to tilt the pelvis forward and elongate through the back of your thighs. Engage your feet and ankles, pulling the toes towards the body.
- Reach forward with your arms and connect the peace fingers with your big toes. Take a breath in and lengthen through the spine.
- As you breathe out, begin to lower your chest towards the legs. Soften slightly through the upper back and shoulders but continue leading down with the center of your chest.
- Stay in the fold for 5-10 slow, steady breaths. To exit, inhale and lengthen through the spine while holding on to the big toes. Exhale and let go, lifting back to Staff Pose.
The biggest advice you can apply to this pose as a beginner is not to simplify it. Seated Forward Bend is not just about reaching for your toes. In fact, it can still be performed without that particular element. Instead, you should focus on isolating the strength in your hip flexors and using gravity to your advantage. The fold needs to come from the hip, and you should aim to keep your spine as elongated and straight as possible. The mistake many beginners make with this pose is overworking their hamstrings and sciatic nerve by reaching past their limits, which often results in an injury and doesn’t actually improve flexibility. Don’t be afraid to bend the knees a little and try to establish contact between your thighs and your belly.