It’s a common misconception that the asanas are a form of physical exercise. While the asanas move the body, they also move the mind.
The effect on the mind comes because the asanas move prana in the body. When prana flows freely, you have everything you need to feel well. Your mind can stop chasing and racing and rests comfortably in the present moment.
Paschimottanasana, or West side facing up pose, is a good practice for moving prana in your body so that your mind can find peace wherever it is. But the key to the flow of prana is in how you practice.
The purpose of paschimottanasana is not to touch your toes at the expense of your spine. Forcing a bend from your waist or straining through your buttocks will only weaken areas that need strengthening. Injury follows, the flow of prana does not.
Instead, turn your pelvis forward to fold over your legs, engaging the muscles along the front of your thighs to allow the muscles along the back to release and lengthen. Use each inhale to lengthen through your spine and exhale to release forward. When you reach your full expression of the pose, you’ll be neither pushing nor holding back. Here in this meeting point you’ll find a sweetness in your body and a softening of your mind. You may even detect the presence of the divine.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Essence: Lengthening backs of legs, calming
Strength: Front side of thighs and pelvic floor
Anchor: Sit bones
Paschimottanasa from the ground up
Many people who are accustomed to sitting in chairs all day find that it takes some practice to connect to and move from the pelvis. Using a strap is helpful until you reconnect with this part of your body. With patience, you will eventually lay your belly on your legs and softly round the spine. See more modifications below.
1. Sit on your mat with your legs extended. Feet are hip-width distance apart and flexed. Move the fleshy part of your buttocks straight back to encourage the turn of the pelvis. Engage the muscles above your knees by lifting your kneecaps toward your hips. Place your hands beside your hips. Lengthen your spine, and bring the pelvis upright.
2. With your exhale breath, turn your pelvis to move your entire torso forward with your spine extended. You can hold the outside edges of your feet or wrap a strap around the balls of your feet and hold one end in each hand while keeping the spine extended. When your pelvis has turned past 45 degrees, you can begin to round your spine. When belly is fully on your thighs, extend your upper body and release your head toward your legs.
Use a strap to encourage the extension in the backs of the legs so as not to overstretch the lumbar spine. Walk your hands down the strap until there is just a slight bend in your elbows.
You can place your hands over top of your toes instead of the sides of your feet while keeping the chest and shoulders broad. You can also use a mudra by wrapping your forefingers and thumbs together to make a circle around each big toe.
If you don’t have a strap and your legs are tight, sit with an upright spine with your palms flat on the floor behind you moving forward with the pelvis as you can.
Common trouble spots
Bent knees. Engage the muscles along the front of your legs and keep your legs straight.
Back rounded before your pelvis is at 45 degrees. Extend through your spine before you begin to round.